Guard's Miss America Contestant Focused on Mission as Pageant Nears
January 17, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Jan. 17, 2008) - Utah Army National Guard Sgt. Jill Steven's "personal combat zone" has shifted from Afghanistan to Nevada, from a minefield to a beauty contest, from combat boots to high heels.
The 24-year-old Stevens is Miss Utah, and a contestant in the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas. The pageant will be televised on TLC Jan. 26
If she wins the crown, Stevens would be the 80th Miss America and the first to have served in a combat zone, a pageant spokesperson said. According to the Miss America Web site the pageant began in 1921 and there were eight years when a new Miss America was not named.
In her duties as Miss Utah, Stevens has traveled from Florida to California, and has seen the destruction of Katrina in Louisiana and the streets of Washington, D.C. She has spoken to generals from 40 different countries.
Back in Utah, she talks about her military experiences with students from preschool through college, challenging them to push-up contests.
"We have our personal combat zone," Stevens tells students. "I served in one in Afghanistan. We all have them in life, whether it be with school, family, peer pressure, finding a career. It's our own minefield and we have to learn to dodge the mines by keeping focus on the target, not doubting ourselves, and believing what our potential is and what we can do."
Like other National Guard Soldiers, Stevens leads a busy lifestyle in which she balances life both in and out of uniform; family, school and unit; the citizen with the Soldier.
She recently said she hopes the pageant audience and judges see beyond her military uniform to the full complexity of her life.
"I don't want to showcase this in a, 'Oh, look at me, I'm a Soldier, I serve my country, you should pick me' kind of way," she said. "I want them to think. I want them to look at Jill Stevens and see the whole picture of everything that I do, and being a Soldier is a huge part of that, but there's a lot more."
Nevertheless, her pageant platform mirrors the Guard's domestic playbook: Ready when disaster strikes - emergency preparedness for everyone.
"That comes from my Soldier side of being ready for anything," Stevens said. "Medics have to be ready for any injury that we face on missions."
And Stevens draws on her Guard experiences - from basic combat training to a combat zone - in her talks with students.
"I talk about going through the gas chamber, and I relate that to doubt in our lives," she said. "I talk about shooting at a range, relating that to goals - how we need to keep focused on the target. I talk about running through a minefield in life."
The final stop on her run for the title of Miss America is a four-day competition in the City of Lights culminating with the crowning of the winner on national television.
She will not be able to participate in her uniform, but with the help of the American Legion, at least 50 of fellow Soldiers will attend the final night of the pageant at Planet Hollywood Jan 26.
That started when a former Miss America, Sharlene Wells, called the Miss America Organization to say that a group of Utah National Guard Soldiers wanted to come to the pageant and show their support but had no budget to buy tickets.
The organization in turn called the American Legion which offered to sponsor the Soldiers and pay for their tickets to attend.
"The motto for the American Legion is 'for God and Country,' and that's exactly what Stevens is doing," said Joe March, the Legion's public relations director. "She stands as a great example of a proud American who is dedicated not only to her country but to her community and her comrades."
As she goes into the competition, Stevens said "My target is Miss America. The military has taught me if you practice, work hard at it and keep focus on the target, I'll be ready."
(Staff Sgt. Rebecca Doucette and Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill work for the National Guard Bureau.)