Brig. Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt’s mother was afraid of horses and of flying.
So, naturally, her daughter rode horses through high school and college and ended up as an Air Force command pilot flying more than 3,000 hours, including over 300 combat hours, in F-15E, T-38A, AT-38B and T-37 aircraft. In spite of her fears, she “absolutely supported me with my passion,” said Leavitt, now the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service.
Leavitt rode a horse in a Girl Scout riding troop, and later was on the equestrian team at the University of Texas. “I loved horses and begged my parents for years to ride horses,” she said.
Leavitt, a graduate of DuBourg High School’s class of 1985, called Tony Award-winner Norbert Butz the most notable member of her class, though her credentials make that debatable. She’s pictured in the yearbook as a cavalier — the school’s nickname — riding a horse across the football field during homecoming. “They knew I had a horse and talked me into it,” she said
At DuBourg, her school activities were limited mainly to playing tennis since she was involved with the riding troop and worked to help pay the expenses for her horse.
DuBourg helped prepare her both academically and spiritually. “It prepared me to be mentally, physically and morally strong,” she said.
She and her husband send their two children to Catholic schools. They are parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Selma, Texas.
Faith is important because “in life there’s challenges, and you need to be ready to respond to those challenges,” she said. To be resilient, “you need to be physically strong, mentally strong and morally strong. I think the faith-based upbringing I had really helps me with that spiritual strength.”
Spiritual resiliency, Leavitt said, is “a belief that tomorrow will be better if things look dark. It’s that internal hope, internal optimism that we carry within us.”
She attended elementary school at St. Simon the Apostle in south St. Louis County. “I had a wonderful childhood in St. Louis,” she said, noting that she was the third of four girls. “We very much appreciated how much our parents supported us and how much they believed in us to do whatever we wanted to do.”
Leavitt will give the keynote address for the reopening ceremony of the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum Downtown on Nov. 3. “For more than 200 years, military members have protected our freedoms,” she said regarding the importance of the museum. “They’ve protected the idea of democracy, the idea that all people should be created equal. When you think about the military and what a great force we have, it’s really about the people more than the machines or technology.”
Veterans “allow us to have the lives we’ve had growing up free and in a democratic society,” Leavitt added.
She’s had a varied career in the Air Force. In 1993, she became the first female fighter pilot after restrictions on women flying combat missions were lifted. Her operational experiences include Operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom. Leavitt is also the first woman to command a U.S. Air Force combat fighter wing.
“I’ve had many incredible opportunities in the Air Force,” Leavitt said. “I’ve very much enjoyed all the positions I’ve had, places I’ve gone, people I’ve worked with. Command is a very special position. A lot of faith and trust is put in you, and you have a lot of responsibility. In command, you enable people to accomplish a mission. Your job is to take care of the people and your organization, and then they will take care of the mission.”
She serves, she said, for future generations. “I want the world to be a better place for them. That’s the reason both my husband and I serve in the Air Force. Also, I have the opportunity to do amazing things with amazing people every day.”
In her job, she also recruits chaplains for the Air Force from all denominations. “We know the importance of airmen having the ability to practice their faith no matter where they are in the world,” Leavitt said. “That is part of that spiritual resiliency for those who seek religion as that hope and optimism.”
She enjoys her work in recruiting, calling it “an incredible mission of engaging with America’s youth, inspiring them to do something great and, for those who would be the best fit for our military, recruit them to be part of our Air Force.”
She’s excited to return to St. Louis where she has many family members, including her sisters and their families who live within two blocks of each other in south St. Louis County.
>> Chaplaincy connections
A few items related to chaplains will be featured in upcoming exhibits at the Soldiers Memorial.
• U.S. Army Christian chaplain’s flag of Capt. Thomas Kennedy, ca. 1918. Msgr.
Kennedy served as chaplain for the 138th Infantry Regiment, which
consisted of Missouri National Guardsmen from St. Louis. Ordained in St.
Louis in 1908, Msgr. Kennedy was named pastor and founder of St. Philip
Neri Parish in 1919 when he returned from active duty in the U.S. Army.
(Soldiers Memorial Military Museum Collections)
• Portable Estey pump organ used by Charles Atkinson Bull with the YMCA, 1892.
On March 17, 1918, Bull, a well-known St. Louis gospel singer,
religious worker, and piano salesman, departed for France. Carrying with
him this portable Estey pump organ, Bull joined the 25,925 YMCA
volunteers serving overseas and in America. The YMCA provided
entertainment, support, and religious services to U.S. and Allied troops
during World War I. (Missouri Historical Society Collections)
• Virgin Mary figurine of Pvt. Justin Jackson, ca. 1918. In April 1917,
St. Louis newspapers ran ads calling for enlisted men to serve with
Base Hospital 21. Jackson, age 22, joined the Army as a private on May
11, 1917. Enlisted men serving in World War I hospitals usually worked
as stretcher bearers, carrying wounded soldiers from ambulances to
hospital tents. Jackson, however, worked as a mechanic fixing
ambulances. He also served as a chauffeur to the commander of Base
Hospital 21, Lt. Col. Borden Veeder. Jackson carried this figurine
during his World War I service, suggesting his Catholic devotion.
(Soldiers Memorial Military Museum Collections)
• Prayer book of Sgt. Robert Walker, ca. 1918. (Missouri Historical Society Collections)
WWI exhibit also mentions the efforts of Protestants (through the
YMCA), Catholics (through the Knights of Columbus) and Jews (through the
Jewish Welfare Board) in ministering to soldiers.
>> Soldiers Memorial
Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt will be the keynote speaker for reopening
ceremony of the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum on Nov. 3. Leavitt is
the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot and the first woman to
command a USAF combat fighter wing. Leavitt is a graduate of Bishop
DuBourg High School.
Following a two-year $30 million renovation,
Soldiers Memorial — a landmark in Downtown St. Louis since 1938 —
reopens to the public as a state-of-the-art museum facility that honors
military service members, veterans and their families, under the
operation of the Missouri Historical Society.
The ceremony on Nov.
3 begins at 9 a.m. with a musical arrangement honoring veterans. A
formal opening ceremony will follow beginning at 10 a.m., with the
revitalized Soldiers Memorial opening to the public at 11 a.m. The first
5,000 visitors on Saturday will receive commemorative pins.
ceremony kicks off a weeklong series of special events to mark the
reopening of Soldiers Memorial. Events include performances of “All is
Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914,” presented by Mustard Seed Theatre.
For more information, visit www.mohistory.org/memorial.
>> Military career
Brig. Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt
is the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service at Joint Base San
Antonio-Randolph, Texas. The Air Force Recruiting Service comprises more
than 2,470 airmen and civilians in more than 1,200 recruiting offices
across the U.S. and abroad. She is responsible for all enlisted
accessions and a variety of officer accession programs. The recruiting
service also manages all strategic marketing for the U.S. Air Force.
entered the Air Force in 1992 after earning a bachelor’s degree in
aerospace engineering from the University of Texas and a master’s degree
in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. She earned
her commission as a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Reserve
Officer Training Corps program. Leavitt has served in a variety of
flying, staff and command assignments and has commanded at the flight,
squadron and wing level. She is a graduate and former instructor of the
U.S. Air Force Weapons School and is a command pilot with more than
3,000 hours. Her operational experiences include Operations Southern
Watch, Northern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
to her current assignment she served as the 57th Wing Commander at
Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the Air Force’s most diverse flying wing
comprised of 37 squadrons at 13 installations with a variety of more
than 130 aircraft.
Joint assignments have included chief of
Special Technical Operations, United States Forces Korea, Yongsan Army
Garrison, Seoul, South Korea, as a major; CSAF fellow, Central
Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C., as a colonel; and principal
military assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Secretary
of Defense, the Pentagon, Washington D.C., as a colonel