Col. Jeannie Leavitt will go down in history as the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot. She made that achievement back in 1993 but can mark another big one down as of last week. She’s officially the first woman to take command of an Air Force combat fighter wing.
According to CBS, “The 45-year-old from St. Louis, Mo., takes over the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, one of only three units of F-15Es, the service’s premier fighter jets. Leavitt will be in charge of the wing’s 5,000 active duty men and women, with 12,000 civilians in the base population.”
Leavitt joined the Air Force after attending the University of Texas and gaining a degree in aerospace engineering. Since then she’s acquired four master’s degrees. “When Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered the services to drop restrictions on women flying combat missions in 1993, she became the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot. She went on to be the first female to graduate from its elite Air Force Weapons School, where she also became an instructor.”
“It helped that once we started flying, people began to see that we were there because of our abilities and not our gender,” Leavitt told The Associated Press. “I don’t see it as a ‘first’ sort of thing. I see it as an incredible opportunity, an incredible honor, to lead a unit with its history and heritage.”
“She’s a great wingman,” said her boss, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells, who flew with her in combat over Iraq. “She has everything she needs to be a great commander.” He also said her new command was “long overdue.”
“It’s a steep climb. For her to be where she is today, well, I think it sends a strong message,” said Wells. “Because of what she has done, a lot of people will be able to follow behind her.” He mentioned that only 6 percent of Air Force officers make the rank of colonel, let alone hold a command position.
“It is true I’m the first female to command a fighter wing,” said Leavitt at the official ceremony. “More important is the wing itself. It’s got incredible history. I am proud to serve in an Air Force where men and women have the same opportunity based on how you perform and your capabilities.”
Ok, Hollywood, feel free to make a movie about Leavitt any day now…