FORT BELVOIR, Va. Aca,!" Army Family member and veteran Joyce Dodson won the 2008 Operation Rising Star military singing contest Nov. 14 at Wallace Theater.

Dodson, 24, of Bamberg, Germany, is married to Sgt. Marquis Dodson of the 240th Quartermaster Company. She served four years in the Army and now works in Human Resources at the in- and out-processing center at Schweinfurt, Germany.

Runner-up honors went to Fatima McElveen, the 20-year-old daughter of 1st Sgt. Michael McElveen, who last week transferred from Fort Campbell, Ky., to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Fatima is a junior at Middle Tennessee State University majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in Spanish.

Both performers applauded the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command for allowing military Family members to participate in the contest that started on 47 Army installations, camps and forward-deployed locations around the world.

Dodson, a gospel singer from George Washington High School in Danville, Va., got excited as soon as she realized that she could enter.

Aca,!A"I saw the flier and said, Aca,!EoeOh, my goodness, I would love to do it,Aca,!a,,cAca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"I know every year they have it, but this year they said Family members could participate, and I was like, Aca,!EoeGreat, thatAca,!a,,cs me!Aca,!a,,cAca,!A?

Next thing Dodson knew, she was wowing crowds at RohrAca,!a,,cs Diner in Schweinfurt. Shortly thereafter, she was at Fort BelvoirAca,!a,,cs Wallace Theater singing Jennifer HudsonAca,!a,,cs Aca,!A"And IAca,!a,,cm Telling You IAca,!a,,cm Not GoingAca,!A? and Shania TwainAca,!a,,cs Aca,!A"YouAca,!a,,cre Still the One.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"It worked out perfectly,Aca,!A? Dodson explained of opening with a powerful song thatAca,!a,,cs very busy, loud and energetic. Aca,!A"The judges said I had a wonderful voice but they wanted me to calm it down, so it worked out perfectly because Aca,!A"YouAca,!a,,cre Still the OneAca,!A? is a calm, love song and it was country Aca,!" so a gospel girl singing a country love song showed my versatility.Aca,!A?

McElveen never dreamed being a SoldierAca,!a,,cs daughter could open such doors.

Aca,!A"Never,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"I always thought about maybe American Idol because I thought they need someone who is with the military so the military can support that person. But, I also thought maybe IAca,!a,,cm not deserving, because IAca,!a,,cm just a daughter Aca,!" I donAca,!a,,ct serve.

Aca,!A"But when I think about it, yeah, we do. My dad wasnAca,!a,,ct there all the time. It was like being raised in a single-parent home.Aca,!A?

Dodson seconded that sentiment.

Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cve been on both sides,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"I got out of the military in 2006, so IAca,!a,,cm able to understand both sides. Family members go through a lot. They have to be strong, too. You have to be strong when your Soldier has to go. YouAca,!a,,cve got to be understanding and know that this is what theyAca,!a,,cre doing to support their Family.

Aca,!A"Family members have to be just as strong as their Soldier because when that Soldier has to go out, youAca,!a,,cve got to stand up and hold it all together.Aca,!A?

The vocalistsAca,!a,,c communities supported them much like they would deploying troops.

Aca,!A"I heard that my MWR passed out buttons with my picture on it that said Aca,!EoeVote for Fatima on,Aca,!a,,cAca,!A? McElveen said. Aca,!A"They also had a big banner and a vote-day luncheon.

Aca,!A"I didnAca,!a,,ct expect any of this, so this has been an amazing journey for me. I was so nervous backstage that I just wanted to burst. IAca,!a,,cm glad itAca,!a,,cs all over. IAca,!a,,cm sad itAca,!a,,cs all over. All this emotion Aca,!" you can only take so much in three days.Aca,!A?

In the semifinals, McElveen sang Martina McBrideAca,!a,,cs Aca,!A"Anyway.Aca,!A? She followed with Etta JamesAca,!a,,c Aca,!A"At LastAca,!A? for her finale.

Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm proud of myself that I got up there and I did that because if you couldAca,!a,,cve seen me backstage Aca,!" everybody was trying to calm me down and telling me to drink some water. I cough when I get nervous and I just cough and cough and cough until I make myself sick.Aca,!A?

When she took the stage, however, McElveen looked like a polished performer.

Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm really blessed, and IAca,!a,,cm happy that I can share my music with members of the greatest military force in the world,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"I hope I made Fort Campbell very proud. I really do.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"AmericaAca,!a,,cs Got TalentAca,!A? producer Nigel Caaro, one of three judges for Operation Rising Star, was touched by the sincerity of the Army MWR program.

Aca,!A"I was so impressed that within an organization that exists for very different reasons, there is an outlet for every kind of talent,Aca,!A? Caaro said. Aca,!A"Whatever youAca,!a,,cre enlisted as, if you have a desire or a dream, you can fulfill it. I think itAca,!a,,cs great the Army allows that to happen Aca,!" they give the time and the space to find out what talent they have and provide an outlet for it.

Aca,!A"It was amazing that one of the contestants actually said they forgot it was a competition until people started to be eliminated.Aca,!A?

The last one eliminated hopes to build upon the experience.

Aca,!A"I want it to lead somewhere,Aca,!A? McElveen said. Aca,!A"When I get on stage and sing, I donAca,!a,,ct think about it like I want to be famous, this is me, watch this. I just sing. But when people come up to me and hand me (business) cards and stuff, IAca,!a,,cm like, Aca,!EoeI can do it. I want to do it.Aca,!a,,c

Aca,!A"I want to perform for more people and in different places. I want to see the world. IAca,!a,,cd love to sing with a live band every night.Aca,!A?

DodsonAca,!a,,cs first-place prize will move her one step closer to her dream of recording an inspirational gospel CD. She won an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Los Angeles to record a three-song demo CD at DMI Music Studios. She wishes she could take all of the Operation Rising Star finalists to California.

Aca,!A"Every semifinalist and every finalist are gifted men and women,Aca,!A? Dodson said. Aca,!A"All of them were so great. This prize could have easily gone to any of them. IAca,!a,,cm honored to win, but just to be able to sing with those guys and to meet everyone here was an honor, as well.Aca,!A?

McElveen won $1,000 as runner-up. Army Spc. Cyril Powell of Fort Bragg, N.C., earned $500 for third place.

Army Staff Sgt. Victor Trinidad of Fort Lewis, Wash.; Air Force Staff Sgt. Dirik Cole of Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras; and Army Pfc. Star Exum of Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, rounded out the six finalists.

Contestants at the installation level won $500 for first place, $250 for second, and $100 for third.

(Tim Hipps serves with FMWRC Public Affairs.)