Jerry L. Leatherman planned and then flew some of the most spectacular missions of the Gulf War. A 1978 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, he was first assigned to Reese AFB, Texas, for Undergraduate Pilot Training. He received his silver wings in 1979 and crossed the Atlantic to RAF Bentwaters, England, where he flew the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Leatherman quickly demonstrated a superior capacity for flying fighters and was selected for Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Then he returned to Bentwaters, where he became the Chief of Wing Weapons Academic Branch. Leatherman was reassigned to Nellis AFB and continued to fly the A-10 with the 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron.
Recognizing his increasing skills, the USAF rerouted Leatherman’s career and selected him for duty in a unit with a “secret” mission. In the 4450th Tactical Fighter Group, officially at Nellis AFB, he began to fly a “black world” airplane. In reality, he flew from a little known base near Tonopah, Nevada, 140 miles northwest of Las Vegas. There, in the unit later named the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, he became Assistant Chief, Weapons and Tactics. When Saddam Hussein sent his Iraqi Blitzkrieg into Kuwait in August of 1990, Leatherman was hurriedly named Chief, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing–Provisional Desert Storm Combat Mission Planning Cell. In the months before the allied combat response, he supervised the planning for the missions that would be flown by the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.
Leatherman was an ideal officer for this task. His contributions to the “stealth fighter” program were based on a solid foundation first laid in his days in wing weapons shops. He had helped devise new tactics for the F-117, as the USAF expanded the aircraft’s mission from small, covert operations to full-scale conventional warfare. His carefully recorded results of rarely used, live weapons helped set new standards for employment of the GBU-10 Paveway II laser-guided bomb. When Operation DESERT SHIELD began, Tactical Air Command tasked 37 TFW to develop a concept for the F-117A operations against key Iraqi targets. Leatherman devised the strategy for deploying the 415th Tactical Fighter Squadron to Saudi Arabia.
Once deployed, he set up a “deployed combat mission planning cell” and, working with United States Central Command, fine-tuned the opening strikes of Desert Storm. His innovations allowed larger fighter packages to move faster into and out of the combat arena. Not only a “planner,” Leatherman was a “warrior,” personally taking part in the opening minutes of the airwar, when he delivered two laser-guided bombs into a critical communications facility in Baghdad. His “opening shot” film footage was seen around the world on the Cable News Network. After Desert Storm, Leatherman returned to the States and attended the Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, graduating in 1992.
Soon thereafter he left active duty, and today he serves his country flying the A-10 as Assistant Operations Officer of the USAF Reserve unit flying from Whiteman AFB, Missouri. Having just returned from flying duty in Bosnia, Leatherman and his wife Nancy, and son Logan, look forward to future assignments in the active reserve forces.