Tech Sgt. Mary Quattlebaum said her time in the U.S. Air Force has positively impacted her personal growth, leadership, sense of purpose, and camaraderie and now she shares her journey to military service with students across the country.

Quattlebaum, who has been in the Air Force for 14 years, made the decision to join at 21 years old because she wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself.

“Both of my parents served in the Air Force,” she said. “My father made the military his career, and I always looked up to him. I always enjoyed the military lifestyle and living on the bases. It always felt like a close community and family. Because everyone was away from their own families, everyone was really close and took care of each other.”

Quattlebaum, who is currently a recruiter with the 133rd Airlift Wing in the Minnesota Air National Guard, recently met with student athletes from the gymnastics and soccer teams at Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minn.

“The athletes enjoyed the visit,” said Ali Flaata, Head Gymnastics Coach at Park High School. “It was encouraging to hear about how the lessons they learn in sports transfers to their future careers, especially the Air Force.”

Quattlebaum noted that one way to combat the underrepresentation of women in the Air Force is through outreach and awareness, such as this high school leadership program, facilitated by Rocky River, Ohio-based DistrictWON, a U.S. Air Force partner for marketing and local engagement.

“Partnerships with high schools can help by dispelling stereotypes and addressing misconceptions about military service,” she said. “Women might believe that the military is only combat-oriented, but in reality, there are diverse roles that align with various interests and skills. Breaking down these stereotypes and showcasing the opportunities within the Air Force can encourage more women to consider military service. Collaborations with high schools provide a platform to showcase the inclusive and rewarding aspects of a career in the Air Force, encouraging more women to explore these opportunities.”

Flaata found it encouraging that a female Air Force representative came to speak directly to Park High School female athletes. “Exposing female students to diverse career options is crucial for promoting gender equality, empowering them economically, and fostering leadership skills. It breaks down traditional stereotypes, inspires confidence, and contributes to a more innovative and inclusive workforce. By providing opportunities for female students to explore various paths and develop leadership qualities, we invest in creating a future generation of capable and diverse leaders,” Flaata said.

According to the 2022 Demographics Profile of the Military Community 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, with those actively serving in the military rising to 17.5 percent from 17.3 percent the year prior and those in the selected reserve rising from 21.4 percent to 21.6 percent over the same period.

“Women joining the Air Force can benefit from diverse career opportunities, gaining skills in fields like aviation, technology, healthcare, and more,” Quattlebaum said. “They can train for roles such as pilots, engineers, medics, or even leadership positions. This not only offers a chance for professional growth but also personal development through teamwork, discipline, and resilience. Joining the Air Force can empower women to take on challenges, and contribute to the defense and well-being of their country.”