FALLS CHURCH, VA – Maj. Elise Dent of the Joint Force Headquarters Maryland National Guard in Baltimore was crowned Ms. Veteran America 2021 on Oct. 10 and will serve as an ambassador for Final Salute Inc. for the next year. Dent, a medical planner is the branch chief of the Soldiers and Family Programs for the state of Maryland. Additionally, Maj. Marie St. Louis Okoro placed in the top 10 of the competition, which is a program of the Final Salute Inc., non-profit organization.
The mission of Final Salute is to provide safe and suitable housing for homeless women veterans and their children.
Dent helped raise money for the organization by starting her own outreach event called Ruck March Mondays. On a ruck march, a soldier carries all of her military gear in a backpack called a ruck. Dent agreed to ruck march 1 mile for every 25 dollars donated to her cause. Dent used social media platforms to promote the opportunity for donating. Between February and October of this year, she rucked more than 200 miles in support of Final Salute.
“I’m blessed to be in a good situation,” said Dent. “But if I can help others get over a rough time, I want to do that.”
Contestants for the Ms. Veteran America were scored and ranked in four areas: interview, talent, military history and advocacy.
“This competition isn’t based on beauty, and there isn’t a bikini contest,” said Dent, who lip synched a song for a talent portion. “Women of all types and ages can compete,” she said.
In addition to fundraising, Dent volunteers at the American Legion Post 22 in Towson, Maryland. She bartends and donates all of the tips to Final Salute.
Dent, who was commissioned at Morgan State University, has served in the Army National Guard for 18 years and is now an Active Guard Reserve Soldier for her home state of Maryland.
Army Medicine’s Maj. Marie St. Louis Okoro placed in the top ten in the competition.
“People assume that if you’ve served then you have certain resources available to you,” said Okoro, whose battle buddy told her about the organization. “That is not necessarily the case. Being a part of the organization has been very eye opening for me."
Okoro is a medical planner and currently a student at the School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She has served 16 years in the military with 14 of those being in the U.S. Army. Like Dent, she is an Active Guard Reserve soldier and was commissioned at the Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.
“I had no idea about all the homeless women veterans there were until I joined Final Salute,” said Okoro. “Women and young women have always been my passion. So the mission of Final Salute is near and dear to my heart.”
Okoro also used social media to raise funds for the organization. For the talent portion of the competition, she did a battered woman praise dance. “I’d never done a praise dance before,” said Okoro. “And as a Christian woman, I even wondered if I would be looked at negatively due to using a gospel song for talent. But I prayed about it, and it went over very well.”