WHITEMAN AFB -- Thirty three years ago, Col. Robert L. Leeker began his Missouri Air National Guard flying career piloting Phantoms. This past week, he brought that Guard flying career to a close piloting a Spirit.
Colonel Leeker took his final flight as the 131st Bomb Wing commander at Whiteman Air Force Base Feb. 25. In addition to the F-4 Phantom and B-2 Spirit, Leeker has also flown the F-15 Eagle.
"I've had some really good times," said Colonel Leeker. "I love flying. The clouds, the ground ... I've been all over the world."
Colonel Leeker has served with the 131st for more than 38 years. When he began his career, it was with the 131st Tactical Fighter Wing in St. Louis. Later, the unit transitioned into the 131st Fighter Wing and, more recently, realigned to support the B-2 mission at Whiteman AFB.
Colonel Leeker completed his B-2 qualification training in 2009 and was a big part of the transition to Whiteman that has the unit supporting and providing stability to the B-2 mission as the 131st Bomb Wing.
His wife, Mary, said she is proud of her husband.
"I think he's been amazing," she said. "He started out as an Airman, enlisted, and made it all the way to a wing commander. That's a testimony that anything is possible."
Colonel Leeker joined the Missouri Air National Guard in 1971 and received his second lieutenant commissioning on March 17, 1977.
Colonel Leeker has flown missions in support of Operations Provide Comfort, Northern Watch and Southern Watch. He commanded the 506th Air Expeditionary Group in Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, serving as both senior airfield authority and base operating support-integrator during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Colonel Leeker has logged more than 4,300 flight hours in seven different aircraft.
He has received the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Combat Readiness Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon for pistol, and many more awards.
His final flight brought back memories from Operation Northern Watch and other flights over many countries.
"I was reflecting back," Colonel Leeker said, about his final flight. "Usually, you go in the air and you have a mission."
The mission keeps both pilots focused and set to complete the operation ordered. His soul mission this flight was to take one last turn in the premiere stealth bomber that only an elite few can fly.
"I didn't expect that to happen, all the memories flooded in. I probably bored Bling," he said.
Maj. Tim "Bling" Rezac, the youngest Air National Guard B-2 pilot, had the honor of flying Leeker's last flight with him.
"It was a huge compliment," Major Rezac said. "He gave me a lot of tidbits. I got almost 40 years of counseling in one flight."
The flight was a 4.3 hour mission, flying at 35,000 feet, where they released simulated weapons at two drop points during the flight.
"I thought it was great he was telling me about Northern Watch," Major Rezac said.
"How they flew fast and low over the mountains."
Mary was able to send out a good luck message to Reaper 11 (Leeker) as he and Major Rezac took to the sky.
"It's very emotional," said Mary. "When you see the end of something, you have to take a deep breath. It's a great accomplishment."
He has also been supported in his career by his children, Brian, Ashley and Irina.
Colonel Leeker said he will miss flying for the Guard, but that he would miss the men and women of the 131st Bomb Wing more.
"These are the finest people I've ever known," Colonel Leeker said. "They do things for you and take care of you. These are great people and I've been around a long time."
He wanted to leave them a message and that is to "be the best you can be - be the best. Be good wingmen."
After his flight, family and friends gathered at base operations to tell stories and congratulate him on his successful military career. Brig. Gen. Robert E. Wheeler, Whiteman AFB commander, thanked Colonel Leeker for his service and contributing to the successfulness of the total force integration on base.
Colonel Leeker graduated cum laude with his associate's degree in electronic engineering from Forest Park Community College in 1974. He received his bachelor's degree in general studies from University of Missouri - St. Louis with cum laude honors in 1976. In 1997, he received his master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
Later this month, Col. Greg Champagne will take the reins as wing commander.