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1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Greta with her father, Whitney, and mother, Melissa. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Greta Gardner, daughter of Col. Whitney B. and Melissa Gardner, earned the title of Miss Ozark during a pageant April 30. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
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3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Greta was also named most photogenic. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The daughter of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chief of staff earned the honor of representing a nearby community when she became Miss Ozark at the city’s pageant April 30.

Greta “GiGi” Gardner, daughter of Col. Whitney B. and Melissa Gardner, said she is thrilled and proud to represent the city in which she’s lived for the past year.

“This is really special for me,” GiGi, who will be a senior at Carroll High School in Ozark next year, said. “I’m a military child and while I may not have grown up here, I love Ozark so much. I think that is one of the main things that they saw with me, and one of the main things that I spoke about – there’s nothing that I would be more proud of than to represent the city and Fort Rucker.”

She will represent the city at numerous events throughout the summer, and also at the Miss National Peanut Festival pageant this fall that will feature contestants from Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Even though she will face off against many more competitors and the stakes will be even higher at the National Peanut Festival pageant, GiGi remains confident – a recurring theme with the teen.

“I’m confident and nervous – nervous mainly because I know all of the girls I met through these events and they are all amazing,” she said, adding that while she would be happy for any of her competitors to win the pageant, her main goal is to earn the title of Miss National Peanut Festival herself. “I believe I have a great shot at it.”

And that’s the way she approaches most things in her life, she said when asked about her philosophy for success.

“Confidence, for sure, but I also feel that if you don’t have your mind on something, you won’t achieve it,” she said. “When I put my mind to something, I am more likely to achieve it, but if it’s not exactly there, then I won’t be at my strongest.”

When pressed for an Oscars-like acceptance speech for winning Miss Ozark, GiGi thanked all of the people who helped her achieve her goal.

“It was definitely not a one-person show, even if it was just me up on the stage,” she said. “A lot of people put a lot of work into it. I really want to thank my parents for believing in me and letting me sign up for the event that they knew was going to take up a lot of my time. They are my biggest supporters.”

Her biggest supporters are justifiably proud of GiGi and her accomplishments, according to her father.

“I’ve been most impressed with how willing she has been to put herself out there,” Whitney said. “She has had extremely minimal experience doing pageants. Most girls who enjoy doing pageants are drawn to them at an early age. It can be difficult for a military kid to connect quickly or deeply with a school or with a community, but she loves Carroll High School and the city of Ozark. She’ll be a great representative of the city.

“She never quits,” he added. “She is always trying new things. Melissa and I are so impressed with how brave she is, how willing she is to compete, to put herself out there and represent herself well and learn – she always wants to learn.”

GiGi is proud of her military and Fort Rucker affiliations, her father added.

“She’s a good example for Fort Rucker kids,” Whitney added. “She’s a good person who wants to do well – she’s proud to represent the city and the military. I think she is an all-around great representative of Ozark and Fort Rucker. I think she has a really strong chance of earning the Miss National Peanut Festival title. It would be such a huge thing for her, for Ozark and also for Fort Rucker.”

GiGi said being a military kid has played a major role in making her who she is today.

“Even though I have some military kid friends who would say it isn’t always the best, I believe it’s become a part of who I am,” she said, adding that she can’t imagine who she’d be if she lived in one place all of her life. “Living in all of the places I’ve lived and knowing all of the people I’ve known – I’ve had to say goodbye to great friends and people I really cared about from moving – has really opened my eyes to a lot of things that I realize not very many people get to see. It’s made me stronger.”

When she’s not winning pageants or excelling at school, GiGi said she enjoys cheerleading.

“That has always been my favorite thing to do – I love the team, I love to cheer, I love stunting, I love supporting our teams,” she added. “I also learned how to play soccer and softball, and I am in student government, which is another thing I’m very passionate about. I love being a part of that and doing things for the school and for the students.

“I can’t say that I have a lot of free time, but when I do, I normally just sit and hang out with my parents,” she said. “That might sound kind of boring, but I really do like to just hang and talk with them. I also love being with my friends.”

After high school, GiGi plans to use her varied experiences and scholarships from the pageants to go to college.

“I am keeping my options open on schools – I would like to visit them and learn more about them,” she said. “But so far, I like Troy, Auburn University, Mississippi State, and the College of Charleston. I plan to major in entomology, and become a conservation and environmental biologist.”