Whiteman AFB B-2 pilot follows grandfather, father’s footsteps

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kayla White
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Honoring heritage is an important part of Air Force service. For many Airmen, understanding the dedication and sacrifices made by the men and women before them is what drives them to bring their best to the fight.

For one B-2 Spirit pilot from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, this call to service is more personal.

“I grew up around military bases and had the opportunity to see planes fly on a near daily basis and was always in awe,” said Leitzel, who is assigned to the 393rd Bomb Squadron. “I would go to every air show and always pictured myself flying an airplane when I grew up.”

Leitzel was born at Dyess AFB, Texas, but has lived all over the world including Alabama, Germany, South Dakota, Arizona, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

He said he earned his commission through the ROTC program at The Pennsylvania State University in the spring of 2013 with a degree in Security and Risk Analysis.

“My goal has always been to have a career in the military as a pilot, travel the world, and serve my country,” he said.

Following in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, Leitzel became a third-generation bomber pilot.

His grandfather on his mother’s side, Don Currie, retired as an Air Force colonel.

Leitzel said his grandfather flew 45 combat sorties in a B-17 Flying Fortress out of Deenethorpe Airfield, UK, while assigned to the 401st Bomb Group from December 1, 1943 to December 30, 1944, during World War II.

“On March 4, 1944, he successfully landed a heavily-damaged B-17 after flak over Cologne, Germany, damaged his landing gear,” he said. “He earned commendations for this sortie and several Distinguished Flying Crosses for his missions over Schweinfurt and Berlin.”

Currie also flew several other planes throughout his career, including the B-47 Stratojet and the B-52 Stratofortress.

Leitzel’s father, retired AF Col. Ben Leitzel, served as both an electronic warfare officer in the B-52 and a weapon systems officer in the B-1 Lancer.

Leitzel said Ben flew during Operation Allied Force, a NATO contingency response aimed at ensuring full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1199, adopted on September 23, 1998.

His father flew 16 B-1 combat sorties out of Royal Air Force Fairford, England, from April 1 to June 7, 1999. Ben flew missions over Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro.

“His crew earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for the first B-1 combat mission of OAF,” Leitzel said. “They were targeted by SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] with the bomb doors stuck open, and they needed unscheduled air refueling. On return to base, they had a lightning strike on the tail.”

Like his grandfather and father before him, Leitzel has forged his own combat career in the B-52.

“I have visited several countries and flown 37 combat sorties in Operation Inherent Resolve in the B-52H out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar,” he said.

Today, he serves as a B-2 Spirit pilot out of Whiteman AFB, flying the Air Force’s premier stealth bomber aircraft.

“It’s a strange feeling looking back at all I’ve done so far in my short career,” said Leitzel. “I’ve had the opportunity to fly in several Large Force Exercises.”

He has flown in multiple 24+ hour sorties, including a 36-hour sortie for Operation Eager Lion, a two-week multinational military exercise held annually in Jordan since 2010. He has also flown combat sorties over Iraq and Syria.

Most recently, Leitzel deployed as part of Bomber Task Force Europe to RAF Fairford, again following the legends before him.

BTF Europe brought Airmen from Whiteman AFB, three B-2’s and key support equipment to the European command in order to conduct theater integration and flying training. The BTF helps exercise RAF Fairford as a forward operating location for bombers.

“It’s a cool feeling to know I have the opportunity to stay on the same base as my father almost exactly 20 years ago and visit the same places my grandfather visited nearly 75 years ago,” he said. “It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of heroes and try to live up to their standards every day.”

Leitzel says he hopes he will have the opportunity to continue to follow in their footsteps and live up to their legacy.