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Brigadier Gen. Jeannie Leavitt right before the induction ceremony at the 2018 Supergirl Surf Pro on Sunday, July 29 in Oceanside. Photo by Carey Blakely
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First female fighter pilot empowers by example at Supergirl Pro

OCEANSIDE — Every “Supergirl” needs a hero to look up to and female support to fall back on when the going gets tough. There are days when one just doesn’t want to put on the cape, and other days when someone threatens to take that cape away.

At the 2018 Paul Mitchell Supergirl Pro festival in Oceanside, girl and women heroes were seemingly everywhere: in the water, as the world’s best female surfers went toe to toe in a three-day competition; on the land, as women skateboarders, DJs and gamers showcased their talents; and in the air, as the nation’s first female fighter pilot descended from the proverbial skies to inspire us all to strive for excellence.

Brigadier Gen. Jeannie Leavitt putting the cape on Carissa Moore as second-place winner, Caroline Marks, looks on. Photo by Carey Blakely

U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt is an icon. She shattered the military’s glass ceiling in the early 1990s when she became the first female fighter pilot. Leavitt flew the Air Force’s top combat jet, the F-15E Strike Eagle, which is capable of speeds up to 1,875 miles per hour, according to its current manufacturer, Boeing.

Leavitt said during the Supergirl Women’s Empowerment Panel on July 29, “I asked for the F-15E Strike Eagle and was told no.” Women were banned from combat flight when she first joined the Air Force. “Then when given the chance, I decided I’d try to be the very best.”

Leavitt described her strategy as “wearing down their defenses” and noted, “If you’re good, you’ll get recognized.” She told the audience and her panel members, “I am a huge proponent of dreaming big,” adding, “Do not take no for an answer.”

Brigadier Gen. Jeannie Leavitt speaks with her fellow airmen before an induction ceremony of new recruits. Photo by Carey Blakely

In addition to logging more than 3,000 flight hours, including combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Leavitt has also piloted renowned news correspondent Martha Raddatz — a journalist known for shattering her share of glass ceilings through embedded war reporting in the Middle East and presidential debate moderating.

Leavitt told The Coast News, “It was an honor to be interviewed by Martha Raddatz because she’s very interested in the military and in highlighting strong, empowered women.”

When asked whether Raddatz got nauseous in the F-15, Leavitt laughed. “No, she did not. So she either has an iron stomach, or I was smooth with the plane, or some combination of both.”

During the Supergirl Pro event on Sunday, Leavitt swore in new inductees to the Air Force. They stood on stage, hands held in salute and repeated the Air Force oath of enlistment — part of which includes a pledge to uphold the Constitution.

After the ceremony, this reporter asked Leavitt how she separates politics from duty. She answered, “I stay completely out of politics,” explaining that the officer oath is very similar to the enlistment one just witnessed on stage. Like the new recruits, Leavitt described her service as, “I have a duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States, defend our country and serve my fellow airmen.”

In a fun convergence of worlds, Leavitt presented the Supergirl Pro surf contest winner, Carissa Moore, with her cape. It was the perfect way to cap a weekend of female empowerment, where the message to break ground in various endeavors and lift each other up along the way resonated loud and clear.