Cpt. Bianca Santos-Guion initially joined the U.S. Air Force for the free education provided through the Air Force Academy to become a doctor but found that her career path took an unexpected turn.

“My last year in college I changed my mind and decided to be a pilot instead…and it’s been awesome!” she said. “It’s been a bit of a wild ride so far, but I’m living the dream.”

Santos-Guion is currently an instructor pilot at the KC-135 Schoolhouse in Altus, Okla., training the next generation of USAF tanker pilots.

“You learn more about yourself and how you operate in the professional world, and then you figure out how to apply that to build your team/network,” she said of her service experience. “Anytime I move, I ask myself, what was my impact here and is this how I want to be remembered everywhere I go?”

And while Santos-Guion is content in her role within the military, she also acknowledges that challenges exist being one of the few women in the room.

“When I first arrived at MacDill [AFB in Tampa, Fla.], I was the only female pilot in my unit,” she said. “By the time I left in 2021, we had a total of four. It’s challenging to be in an environment where you have a limited amount of interaction with other females, especially when discussions that require different perspectives are being had.”

That is why, Santos-Guion continued, it is so important to speak with young women about the benefits, challenges, and overall possibilities of a career in the Air Force.

“Partnerships with high schools will allow us to spread information and provide a channel for young folks to learn about and understand opportunities they might not have known ever existed,” she said.

Santos-Guion recently visited with the girls’ basketball team and other female student athletes of Cloverdale High School in Cloverdale, Ind., as part of a teamwork-focused leadership program facilitated by Ohio-based marketing firm DistrictWON. The information event engages students in a new way and allows current servicemembers to break through barriers and talk with students about their leadership potential within the military and what it could offer beyond graduation.

“Any time females can be exposed to and shown there are just as many opportunities out there for them the better. This program does that with real life experiences,” said James Wade, athletic director at Cloverdale High School. “Many of our athletes stayed after asking pertinent and specific questions regarding the Air Force and women in the Air Force.”

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. Since 2005, the percentage of active-duty military women has increased 2.9 percent while the women in the selected reserve has risen by 4.4 percent.

“The sharing of different ideas and experiences is required for change,” Santos-Guion said. “As the world continues to grow and our mindsets change, as the USAF shifts their focus to more complex challenges, we need a diversity of minds to develop strategies for success. What we have done in the past, may not work for us in the present or future. We need to adapt to change and the way to do that is through diversity.”