Immigrating to the United States at 11 years old, Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Dayanghirang felt a call to military service in gratitude of everything the country had provided her and her family.

“As a young immigrant from the Philippines at 11 years old, I was grateful to step into this country and experience the many benefits it has offered me over the years: education, healthcare, job opportunities and freedom,” she said. “I wanted to give back to the country by serving and be a part of the many citizens who keep this nation as the land of the free.”

Now a career soldier who has traveled the world, Dayanghirang visits high schools across the country to empower young students, particularly young women, to explore the benefits and opportunities of a career in the U.S. Air Force.

“Having partnerships with schools will help the current challenge of underrepresentation of women in the Air Force by having that direct engagement of women in service with the students,” she said, noting that integration and diversity in the military promotes innovation and productivity through different talents, backgrounds, and experiences.

Dayanghirang recently met with the female student athletes from Moriarty High School in Moriarty, N.M., as part of a leadership initiative facilitated by DistrictWON, a U.S. Air Force partner for marketing and local engagement.

“Having them listen to the recruiter opened a lot of their eyes. It showed them a whole new avenue after graduation besides college or the work force,” said Joseph Anaya, Athletic Director at Moriarty High School. “Staff Sgt. Dayanghirang talked about her own experiences in sports and how it helped with her career choice in the United States Air Force [and it] was very engaging for our student-athletes. She had their attention from the start.”

Dayanghirang shared with the girls that the Air Force is not one-size-fits-all and that there are avenues of interest for every personal and professional goal.

“We offer careers in aviation, medical, cops, firefighters, aircraft mechanics, cyber, intel, linguist, etc. You can even be a plumber in the Air Force. We will provide you the education and training you need for the career you are pursuing for free. While doing so, you could also be traveling around the world,” she 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.

For those interested in the Air Force, Dayanghirang always recommends doing the research.

“Doubts are normal,” she said. “Be comfortable to use resources around you, such as recruiters, current or prior military members, teachers, counselors, friends and family members to ask them questions before making the decision of joining.”