In the world of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Airman Lindsay Knepp, who graduated high school in 2020, said that having a stable job in the Air Force where she could continue to learn and have her college education covered was an invaluable advantage.

“I’ve had the opportunity to do things and see things I never would have if I had taken the traditional college route,” Knepp said. “Overall, my time in the Air Force has profoundly impacted me personally and professionally, shaping me into the person I am today.”

Knepp recently met with female student athletes from the girls basketball team at Monticello High School in Monticello, Minn., to discuss the benefits of military service for young women as part of a leadership program facilitated by Rocky River, Ohio-based DistrictWON, a U.S. Air Force partner for marketing and local engagement.

“By partnering with high schools, the Air Force can reach out to young women, specifically women athletes, and educate them about the opportunities available in the military,” Knepp said. “The partnership can help dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about military service that may discourage women from considering a career in the Air Force.”

One common misconception, Knepp added, is that military service is “too manly” for women. She said that not only are women fully capable of excelling in the military, but that integration and diversity in today’s Air Force is crucial to creating a U.S. military that is inclusive and open to all.

“By showcasing successful women in the Air Force and highlighting the diverse roles available, the Air Force can demonstrate that military service is open to everyone, regardless of gender,” she said. “Collaborating with high schools nationwide will provide female athletes with a dedicated recruiter who can serve as a mentor and guide, understanding their unique challenges and aspirations.”

Craig Geyen, the Girls Basketball Coach at Monticello High School, said the female athletes were excited to hear from Knepp and that the girls asked several questions about the Air Force, schooling, future plans, basic training, and current roles within the military.

“High school athletics is crucial to leadership and going beyond high school,” Geyen said. “The skills they learn will follow with them the rest of their life. I think it was good for our players to see women in leadership roles in the Air Force.”

Knepp added that while she initially felt apprehensive and uncertain about her decision to join the Air Force, she did her research and was guided to signing a short contract that allowed her a starting commitment of only four years.

“My advice to any female feeling hesitant is to ask yourself: Who do you aspire to be, and what steps can you take to achieve that? Despite initially feeling unsure, I knew deep down that I wanted to be a leader and make a difference,” Knepp said. “Through my time in the Air Force, I’ve had the opportunity to develop my leadership skills and learn how to distinguish myself when necessary. It has been a rewarding experience overall, and having the option of a short contract provided reassurance that I could explore other paths if needed.”

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.

“One of the key benefits of joining the Air Force is the opportunity for professional and personal growth,” Knepp said. “Women in the Air Force can build confidence, develop leadership skills, and gain valuable experience that can benefit them both in the military and in civilian life.”