While women are underrepresented in the U.S. Air Force, Tech Sgt. Katrina Smith said that partnering with high schools across the country can be helpful in breaking perceived stereotypes and informing a new class of exceptional female recruits. 

“Addressing misconceptions, such as limited career options or workplace culture concerns, can help encourage more women to consider and pursue opportunities in the Air Force,” Smith said. “Collaboration with high schools facilitates informative sessions, mentorship programs, and hands-on experiences that demystify military service, fostering a more inclusive environment.”

Smith recently visited Bonner Springs High School in Bonner Springs, Kan., to head leadership and team building sessions with the school’s female sports teams. She spoke with the school’s female volleyball, softball, cross country, bowling, track and field, soccer, and cheerleading teams. 

Smith shared with the students that she joined the armed forces to gain experience, travel the world, and take advantage of the many opportunities and benefits the Air Force could offer. She also wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and continue her family’s tradition of serving. 

Doug Hitchcock, Athletic/Activities Director for Bonner Springs-Edwardsville Unified School District 204, said the in-person conversation with the teams allowed students to not only ask questions, but listen to each other as well. 

“Tech Sgt. Smith did an excellent job of relating to our female students with some of her stories when she was trying to decide what to do after high school and also her stories once in the Air Force,” Hitchcock said.

The teamwork-focused leadership program facilitated by Ohio-based marketing firm DistrictWON engages students in a new way and allows the Air Force to break through barriers and talk with students about their leadership potential within the military and what it could offer beyond graduation. 

“Women joining the Air Force can benefit from a wide range of roles spanning various career fields, Smith said. “From aviation, intelligence, medical and engineering professions, the Air Force offers diverse opportunities for women to explore and excel. They can build valuable skills in teamwork, decision-making and problem-solving, contributing to their overall career growth.”

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

Smith said that integration and diversity are crucial for the Air Force’s development in fulfilling its service mission and addressing global challenges.

“A diverse and inclusive force brings together individuals with varied perspectives, skills and experiences, enhancing the overall effectiveness and adaptability of the military,” Smith said. “This diversity fosters innovation and problem-solving, essential in the dynamic and complex nature of modern military operations. An inclusive environment improves morale, teamwork, and unit cohesion, leading to a more resilient and capable force.”