I spent 10 years on active duty in the Air Force and worked with and know many AF engineers.
The engineering career field is pretty broad and can be grouped together in a few different ways. The most common groups would be:
1) Aerospace engineer / aeronautical engineer
2) Mechanical engineer
3) Civil engineer
These all assume you go to college, get a degree, and commission as an officer.
For 1 and 2, many of those engineers are managing teams of contracted (non-government/military civilians who work for a company hired by the military to do the work) engineers. So they are still intimately involved in the project/program, but may not actually be doing the engineering work themselves. They could be helping to determine the high-level requirements for the program. For example, if you are an AF engineer over a new air-to-air missile program, you might be figuring out how fast the missile needs to go, how heavy it can be, the size of the warhead on the missile, counter-measures required, etc.
As a civil engineer, you are more responsible for ensuring the base is operating at peak efficiency from an infrastructure perspective. For example, you are managing a team or making decisions for the team that is doing repairs to the runways, renovating new buildings, paving new roads, maintaining HVAC systems, or upgrading sewage lines. It may not sound as glamorous, but has very translatable skills for a second career after the military.
There are also enlisted jobs you can do right out of high school where you are the one doing some of the actual work yourself. You will likely be working for an actual engineer, but you will be the one doing the electrical work, welding, paving, etc.
Daniel recommends the following next steps:
- Check out this page for engineering officer info: https://www.airforce.com/careers/detail/developmental-engineer
- Check out this page for engineering enlisted info: https://www.airforce.com/careers/detail/engineering