By Rhonda Apple, Pentagram Staff WriterJanuary 24, 2014
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, made her first appearance on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Jan. 22, when the pageant winner visited with soldiers at the "Meet and Sweets," event, at the United Services Organization of Metropolitan Washington USO Honor Guard Lounge at the community center on the joint base.
She visited service members at Fort Meade, Md., earlier in the day.
Complete with her sparkly tiara, Davuluri posed for and signed photos for about 40 service members, federal civilian employees and children.
"This is one of the best parts of my job, and Miss America has always been a national icon and a patriotic symbol for our country," Davuluri said. "It's really special to be able to come here and do this and spend time with the wonderful people who are serving our country every day."
This was Davuluri's second USO-sponsored military appearance since she competed as Miss New York and won Miss America in September 2013. In October 2013, she visited the Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Center and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.
Davuluri said her pageant platform was "celebrating diversity through cultural competency." She travels about 20,000 miles each month, visiting military, schools, corporations and participating in other similar events.
"I heard she was the first Miss America of Indian descent, which is exciting to see the diversity in the Miss America pageant," said Spc. Edgar Rodriguez, a movement and control coordinator with 529th Regimental Support Company (The Old Guard). "She was very friendly, very approachable, and it was great she took the time to come over and meet with us the day after the big snow storm."
"I came over for my autograph from Miss America," said a beaming Staff Sgt. James Brown, installation victim advocate. "For her to take time from her schedule to come out and see the troops is a morale builder and shows them that there are people out there who really care about the military."
Sgt. 1st Class Steven Holder, human resources noncommissioned officer in charge with The United States Army Band, brought his daughter Kaylea, 8, to meet Miss America. Although a bit shy about the experience, Kaylea said "I'd like to be Miss America when I grow up."
"I think it's great when the USO brings anyone here of her caliber to interact with the service members," Holder said.
Darryl Chichester, 10, and his brother Darren, 8, were also on base during the snow day with their mom, Jamie Chichester, Army Substance Abuse Program risk reduction coordinator.
"I was nervous, it was the first time I met anyone like a celebrity. It's not a normal thing, and I was surprised," said Darryl.
"I think it will be exciting when the boys return to school and tell their friends they got to meet Miss America," Jamie added.
Marine Corps Sgt. Elyse Millan, an administrator at Walter Reed who has been competing in beauty pageants since 2010, brought two friends to the meet and greet.
"It's not every day you get to meet Miss America," said Millan, after she and her friends put on their pageant tiaras to pose with Davuluri for a photo.
Miss America contestants and winners benefit from the USO tours because they're able to meet people from "all walks of life, especially our military," said Caroline Ketzler, entertainment specialist of USO Metropolitan Washington.
"For a lot of these women, they don't come from military backgrounds or experiences, so it's great for them to meet people from all walks of life," said Ketzler. "When people meet her and see that crown, they just light up."