A life-long athlete, Marisa Quinones felt lost and confused when she decided to quit college soccer but was encouraged by an introduction to the New Mexico Air National Guard.

Quinones, now an Airman/E2 with the 150th Force Support Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, loved the idea of serving her country while still residing in her home state and now shares her journey to military service with high school students throughout the country.

“The underrepresentation of women in the Air Force and the armed forces generally is a complex problem that is a reflection of larger societal issues and attitudes,” she said. “A proactive and all-encompassing strategy is needed to address this underrepresentation, and collaborations with high schools can be very important in this regard. Through partnerships with high schools, the Air Force may interact with young women at an early stage of their career decision-making process.”

Quinones recently met with student leaders from Cleveland High School in New Mexico, speaking to the benefits individuals can receive upon joining the Air Force.

“The NMANG has provided me with financial support as I continue my education at the University of New Mexico, majoring in criminology,” she said. “I administer Physical Fitness Assessments, as well as enter the scores appropriately into an automated system. Performing ceremonies with the honor guard for retirements, funerals, and other functions are also part of my appearance. I am also an alternate for the Fatal Search and Recovery Team. All these roles are very rewarding and intriguing because there are different areas I can learn and grow from.”

Cleveland High School Athletic Director Matt Martinez said that the program, facilitated by DistrictWON, a U.S. Air Force Partner for marketing and local engagement, was helpful in portraying current servicemembers’ experiences and the path they took to get where they are today.

Martinez said he tells his students to “have an open mind to all the opportunities the Air Force has to offer.”

He also added that an “Earn Your Wings” mobile, one of the promotional materials for the event, was awesome and was placed prominently outside the school entrance.

“These relationships [with high schools] can emphasize the prospects in the Air Force and give accurate details about military jobs through workshops, presentations, and mentorship programs,” Quinones said. “The idea that women might not be physically fit for the military is a common one. Although there are fitness requirements in the Air Force, many people can meet them, and certain positions in the service place greater value on technical expertise and mental toughness than on raw strength.”

She added that balancing a military profession and a family life is being supported more and more through Air Force governance.

“[The] Air Force, like other military branches, has done a great job of helping service members who have families by implementing rules that support childcare, maternity leave, and family relocation aid.”

Quinones recognizes the need for further integration and diversity in the military to support overall mission readiness, effectiveness, and credibility around the world.

“To put it briefly, integration and diversity are critical to the Air Force’s mission, not just favorable,” she said. “They make the force more capable, adaptable, and representative of the community it defends while also boosting operational efficacy and encouraging innovation.”

When speaking to high school students, Quinones conveys the extensive range of positions and opportunities for advancement, education, and training that the Air Force provides. Employment options range from engineering, aviation, cybersecurity, and space operations to healthcare, logistics, intelligence, and legal services. Service members can seek higher education in their areas of interest by taking advantage of scholarships, advanced training programs, and educational perks. Frequently, the Air Force will pay for tuition, she added.

“In the end, the decision to enlist in the Air Force is a very personal one that should be in line with your objectives, principles, and dreams,” Quinones said. “Making a significant worldwide effect and serving your country can be achieved by enlisting in the Air Force. Joining operations that support global aid efforts and national security allows you to be a part of something bigger than yourself. In addition to its many professional advantages, Air Force service promotes discipline, personal development, resilience, and a strong sense of purpose. You will find value in these experiences and qualities throughout your life, in both military and civilian pursuits.”