Breaking Barriers: Walnut Ridge High Hosts Air Force Captain to Discuss Women’s Roles in the Air Force

Joining the U.S. Air Force was not Cpt. DéJayé Garner’s Plan A, but after 18 years of service, it has afforded her opportunities that she says brought out the best in her. 

“My military service has given me an opportunity to travel the world, it has taught me skills I never would’ve had otherwise,” Garner said. “It has provided me with a steady income to raise a thriving family and it has provided opportunities to learn and grow not only as a leader, but as an individual.” 

After dropping out of college in her sophomore year, Garner said that she knew she had to set a good example for her three younger siblings and do something meaningful with her life. She met with her local recruiter at 19 years old and, over the course of her career, “went from a medical career field, to a safety career field, to managing aircraft mechanics, from an enlisted Master Sergeant (E7) to now a Captain (O3E).”

“The Air Force recognizes the benefit the female Airmen bring to the table and wants to tap in on those talents and provide opportunities to grow and flourish as much as we can,” Garner said. “The cool thing is even after almost 18 years of service, I am still being challenged in a positive way and growing every day.”

Garner, 962nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit Officer in Charge, recently visited Walnut Ridge High School in Columbus, Ohio, to meet with girls from 9th-12th grades and discuss her experiences with the military and the career options that the military can provide. 

Kila Joseph, I Know I Can College/Career Advising Manager at Walnut Ridge High School, said the leadership event was important because it helped “debunk myths of women in the Air Force.”

“It exposed students to opportunities outside of what they typically see on TV,” Joseph said. “It gave students an alternative pathway after high school. They were excited to hear from someone with a similar background.”

The teamwork-focused leadership program facilitated by Ohio-based marketing firm DistrictWON engages students in a new way and allows Airmen to break through barriers and talk with students about their advancement potential within the military and what it could offer beyond graduation. 

“This is a great benefit for high school students because it highlights women in these fields that we typically do not see on a regular basis,” Joseph said. “We know that tech, military, construction, and more is mainly dominated by men and having this shows that women are doing it as well. This could lead them to be leaders in a field such as the Air Force [service], because they could see themselves in women that presented to them.”

Garner agreed that partnering with high schools is vital because it shows young women that soldiers can look like them.

“Coming out, talking to high school students and showing young ladies that they too can serve just like me helps counter this challenge because they are able to physically see me and ask me questions that maybe they would not want to ask a male currently serving in the military,” she said.

According to the 2022 Demographics Profile of the Military Community recently released by the U.S. Department of Defense, the number of service members in all military branches dropped by 2.7 percent over the previous year. However, the percentage of women increased slightly, with those actively serving in the military rising to 17.5 percent in 2022 from 17.3 percent the year prior and those in the selected reserve increasing to 21.6 percent from 21.4 percent over the same period.

“As a young female leader in the Air Force, it’s not very often I see women in high leadership positions,” Garner said. “This is not because women are not capable of reaching those positions, but rather we are often outnumbered by our male counterparts. As a female leader, I do not take for granted the opportunity I have to show young Airmen and ladies, they too can serve in my capacity. In my opinion, the Air Force recognizes the importance of representation and has made several attempts to break these barriers and place women in key leadership roles in recent years.”