When Layla Sweet first told some of her family members she was going to join the military, they didn't think she could do it.
“They all tried to talk me out of it,” Sweet said. “I said 'no, this is what I'm going to do.' … So they begged me 'If you do go in the military, please join the Air Force.' ”
Sweet joined the Air Force after attending Miami University for a semester.
“The tuition was expensive and I didn't want to graduate with a bunch of student loans,” Sweet said.
At the time, she said she did not know about the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, and she decided to join the Air Force to earn money for college.
“Originally, I planned on just doing my initial enlistment, the four years, get out with my college money and going to college, but I ended up loving the Air Force,” Sweet said. “Here I am 23 years later, still in."
Sweet, who is 42 years old, is the first female ROTC commander at Ohio University.
"I was surprised when I got here that there hadn't been a female commander before, but I'm honored to say the least,” Sweet, who started working at OU in July, said.
OU has two ROTC programs, Army and Air Force, which formed in 1936 and 1948, respectively, according to program websites.
This semester, there are 38 Air Force cadets. When Sweet first arrived at OU, there were three female cadets. Now there are eight.
“In five months time, we've more than doubled our female cadets,” Sweet said. “Hopefully we can continue on that trend. It's not even that we're just trying to focus or target females, it just kind of happened that way."
When female ROTC freshmen were dropped off by their parents in August, Sweet said their parents seemed excited to see a female commander.
"It seemed to put them at ease knowing that they were giving their daughters to another female," Sweet said.
Madison Swan, who is in the Air Force ROTC, said she is glad OU now has a female ROTC commander.
"I'm used to being one of the only girls, which isn't a bad thing, but it's definitely more comfortable knowing that there are other women who do really well,” Swan, a junior studying meteorology, said. "It's just comforting to know that I'm not the only one out there."
Nationally, about 19 percent of the Air Force is made up of women, the most of any branch in the military. Women make up about 15 percent of active duty members overall in the military.
Air Force Captain Jake Reighter said diversity is important in the military.
"(Diversity is) a good piece, no matter what organization you're in, but it's definitely very useful in the military and the Air Force specially,” Reighter said.
Sweet, who is originally from Oxford, is at OU for a three-year assignment.
It is her 13th duty assignment, and she has worked at places around the world including Texas, Florida, Alabama, Germany and Senegal.
When she first enlisted in the Air Force, she started out as a medical laboratory technician.
"From the very, very beginning, I was around a lot of strong female role models who shaped me and shaped my leadership philosophies along the way,” Sweet said.
She has four degrees: an associate's degree in medical laboratory technology from the Community College of the Air Force, a bachelor's degree in social psychology from Park University in Missouri, a master's degree in public health from Touro University in California and a master’s degree in military operational arts and science from Air Command Staff College.
“Growing up in a small town ... I never imagined I get any degrees, let alone four degrees later, all paid for, no student loans,” Sweet said.