ERBIL AIR BASE, Iraq -- Little girls often dream of one day becoming a princess and living the fairytale life. Not many envision lacing up a pair a boots and joining the military, but that was exactly what Lt. Col Beatriz Florez did.
She is part of the generation of men and women who were profoundly affected by the events of Sep 11, 2001, and decided to dedicate their lives to public service by enlisting or commissioning into the military.
“I wanted to serve my country,” she said. “I made the decision that I would join after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I was a junior in high school at the time, and after watching the tragic events unfold on the news, I was resolved to serve.”
Florez commissioned through the ROTC program in 2006 through University of Texas – Pan American and decided to serve in the Army Reserve to continue her studies. She currently has 16 years of military service, 14 of which were as a commissioned officer.
The Army Reserve allowed her to serve her country and pursue her civilian career as a social worker for the Veterans Health Administration. She has always had a deep sense of service and wanted to find ways to further this within her community. Beauty pageants were always at the back of her mind, but learning that they could be community based helped sway her decision to compete.
“I always found pageants interesting, but never had the means or resources as a teen to compete,” Florez said. “When I turned 30, a friend of mine reached out to me and encouraged me to compete. At the time, I did not realize that there were pageants for people over 30. I soon found out that there are so many pageants that allow people of all ages and backgrounds to compete.”
There are pageants for any interest or goal someone might have. Some are solely for beauty, while others are for scholarships or are community based. Florez chose to compete in the Belleza Latina competition because it focused on service and giving back to your community. In 2020, the competition became an “at-large” pageant and Florez was able to compete at the national level.
Choosing a pageant was just the first step. Next was planning out the pageant preparation all the way up to the pageant week. The areas of competition included interview, fashion wear, evening gown, and photogenic events.
“The Belleza Latina Pageant is focused on selecting someone that could be a good representative of the Latino Community, therefore the interview portion of the competition is weighted the highest,” she said. “This was definitely where I focused my training and preparation. There was a lot of self-reflection and platform development. The judges want to see you are committed to service.”
The Seattle-resident said preparations for pageants is stressful and you must be prepared.
Most recently, Florez was crowned as Ms. Belleza Latina International 2020, a title she continues to hold because the 2021 pageant was cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
The officer and the beauty queen
Florez knows what it takes to achieve her goals. She has put in the work and continues to pursue roles that challenge her. She is currently deployed to Erbil Air Base in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve as the executive officer for the Syrian Logistics Cell. The SLC functions as part of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s Operational Command Post, headquartered at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
In this role, she oversees the staff and support operations within the SLC, ensuring the staff stays on mission. She is responsible for syncing the SLC with mission partners in the area of responsibility and providing training and oversight for her Soldiers. She ensures that the sustainment operations are continuously happening and the mission is being met.
With her military service, her civilian job, and her title, time can often be limited. However, she takes her responsibilities in stride.
“There is a lot of sacrifice of personal time and time with family and friends. If your family and friends are supportive, it can be easy. My family comes to community service events to not only contribute but also so we can spend time together. But it is a sacrifice,” she said.
The amount of time she has dedicated to her military career has also prepared her to take on this new role.
“The military has made me a better communicator. It has built my confidence, it has developed my ability to work with people of all different backgrounds and has given me the discipline that helps me fulfill all of my duties,” she said.
A platform to boost cultural awareness, self-esteem to young Latinas
As a pageant winner, Florez is taking the opportunity to use the platform to reach young women. She encourages them to set goals for themselves and chase after their interests.
“Young girls and women have unlimited potential and can be whatever they want to be. If there is something that you are interested in, go for it,” Florez said.
Florez has also used her platform to support a variety of programs that provide education and services to various communities throughout the U.S.
“I presented to several organizations on suicide prevention, partnered with Marleigh’s Ministry to deliver angel gowns to [neo-natal intensive care units] in different states,” she said. “I partnered with the Mission Continues for service projects in Seattle. I worked with organizations that served homeless veterans and partnered with the Washington Department of Health to promote exposure notifications on smartphones to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”
“I also spend time a lot of time answering questions and mentoring people who reach out to me,” she said.
Florez said after her reign is over she will transition from competition to coaching and mentorship.
“I am interested in providing free mentorship/coaching to young women that do want to compete in pageants who may not have the means to pay for coaching,” she said.
Florez is not the only service member to compete or win a pageant title. She joins a number of service women who choose to compete in pageants including Army Reserve Capt. Deshauna Barber, Miss USA 2016; Texas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. San Juanita Escobar, Mrs. Texas Galaxy 2018, and 1st Lt. Angela May DiMattia, Ms. Colorado 2019.
“You would be surprised how many service women compete in pageants,” she said. “I have been lucky to meet several along the way.”