LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – On the same day Laughlin introduces 11 new, combat ready military aviators into the ranks of the world’s greatest Air Force, Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, the Air Forces Recruiting Service commander and command pilot, visited Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.
However, she didn’t come empty handed for the new aviators. This Laughlin graduate and “hometown hero” brought with her 26 years of experience that all started right here, and spanned to see her become the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot and first female commander of a combat fighter wing.
“Graduates, you are our future,” said Leavitt. “I am excited for all the amazing adventures and experiences you will have as you continue your Air Force journey. My advice to you: lead by example, be bold, and learn to take calculated risks.”
Leavitt, more than twenty years ago, completed pilot training as part of Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 93-04, and trained on the T-38C Talon much like Laughlin SUPT students do today.
Though times were much different, and Department of Defense policy forbade female fighter pilots, she ended up flying the KC-10 Extender for a brief period before fighting her way back into the T-38C as an instructor, and finally the F-15E Fighting Falcon.
“You can lead by example at any level. Strive to be the best wingman, the best copilot, or even the best snacko,” she said, reflecting on those years to Laughlin’s graduates and their families. “Work hard, live our core values, and be ready to run through that door when opportunity presents itself.”
Being the best leader possible, being bold, taking calculated risks and seizing opportunity the moment it presents itself are traits that made Leavitt the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, first female graduate and instructor of the USAF Weapons School, the first female fighter wing commander, the first female wing commander at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and the inspiration for Marvel Comic’s most recent adaptation of “Captain Marvel.”
It’s a career of firsts and lifetime achievements that requires a kind of leadership, boldness, and grit that both Leavitt and Laughlin graduates are known for around the world, and that of which culminated into the graduation’s theme.
“Thank you for inviting me to share in this momentous occasion with these 11 people right here—class 19-25,” she said. “I wish you clear skies and tailwinds.”
Col. Lee Gentile, the 47th Flying Training Wing commander, on behalf of Team XL and Laughlin Air Force Base thank Maj. Gen. Leavitt for attending today’s graduation, and wish the graduates a safe, fulfilling career in military aviation.
“A legend—an absolutely amazing officer and combat aviator,” said Gentile. “Thank you ma’am for being here today.”
Author’s note: “Snacko’s” are an additional duty inside most flying squadrons, and are the representative for their squadron’s military wellness and recreation activities and merchandise. These positions are, according to Maj. Gen. Leavitt, usually reserved for the lowest ranking or newest pilots.