The Air Force is not just a man’s world and 2nd Lt. Alexandra Gardner recently visited Mansfield High School in Mansfield, Ohio, to discuss the many opportunities the military has to offer for young women.

“The current challenges of underrepresentation of women in the Air Force are lack of diversity of thought, and a deficiency of being in touch with empathy,” Gardner said. “I believe that having partnerships with high schools will show youth that there is no ideal military woman. Women in the military are not defined by the military, we are all unique and possess valuable traits that are vital to the armed forces.”

Gardner, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in June 2023 and is currently awaiting pilot training, made the decision to join the Air Force due to her admiration of her father’s career in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Force Recon sniper and her high school job as a beach lifeguard.

“Both my father and my job made me realize that I wanted to continue doing work where I could see the difference I was making day to day and I found my path to be one in the military,” she said.

Gardner met with female students from the school’s 11th and 12th grade classes and led leadership sessions facilitated by Rocky River, Ohio-based marketing firm DistrictWON. a U.S. Air Force Partner for marketing and local engagement.  The teamwork-focused program engages students in a new way and allows Air Force personnel to break through barriers and talk with students about their leadership potential within the military and what it could offer beyond graduation.

“This program can help high school students be exposed to different careers and the possibilities for women in the military and beyond,” said Laurie Romano, assistant athletic director at Mansfield High School. Romano added that both of her sons are in the Navy and spoke to the experiences they have had in advancing in leadership roles, cultivating self-discipline, and driving motivation towards a great career.

Discussing the need to encourage and empower young women to consider a path to a military career, Gardner added that integration and diversity are important to the success of Air Force operations because it encourages innovative ways of thought and challenges conventional thinking.

“It shows that multiple cultures can unite and work together to achieve a common goal despite having differing belief systems,” she said. “[And] integration and diversity make the individual feel safer to express their opinions which I believe leads to a more efficient Air Force.”

Additionally, Gardner highlighted the fact that there is no limit to what women can do in the military.

“Every role that a man can do is open to females, including special warfare and combat roles, as long as the female can meet the male standard for these intense jobs,” she said. “In terms of the wide range of roles women can train for, nearly every job on the civilian side is also a job on the military side. The professional and personal growth is limitless but dependent on one’s attitude both in and out of the military.”

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 number of women in the selected reserve has risen by 4.4 percent.

“There are so many amazing opportunities for you and people to meet that will change your life for the better forever, but you have to be willing to dip your toes into the water,” Gardner told the students. “You will never know what you’re capable of if you never try.”