FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — First Lt. Donna Gilbert, executive officer for Company B, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, was crowned Miss Spirit of St. Louis during a scholarship pageant at the Kirkwood Theater in St. Louis on Aug. 29. The win qualifies her to compete for the title of Miss Missouri in 2023, and if successful there, Miss America in 2024.
Her new role as Miss Spirit of St. Louis, Gilbert said, includes public-service activities and doing the most to advocate and inform civilian and Army communities about her chosen social impact platform, sexual assault awareness.
“Sexual assault isn’t something that only runs rampant in the civilian world; it is prevalent in the military world as well,” she said. “As an officer, it’s my job to know the ins and outs of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program. I want to ensure my company scores as well as possible with our SHARP program and is there for our trainees.”
As she prepares for the Miss Missouri pageant, which is scheduled in June, Gilbert said she plans to organize events in local communities and work closely with Fort Leonard Wood SHARP officials to facilitate and organize events around the installation.
According to Tammy Robinson, director of the Miss Spirit of St. Louis pageant, Gilbert’s military background and sense of professionalism are two aspects that set her apart during the competition.
“I believe you gain respect through the military, and when you’re talking with judges, you need to radiate that respect,” said Robinson. “I think that probably helped her as well as listening intently and answering appropriately. She also represents every woman, and I’m sure the Army has helped shape her into who she is today, which played a part in her gaining the role [of Miss Spirit of St. Louis.]”
Over the years, one of Gilbert’s most ardent supporters has been 31st Engineer Battalion Assistant Operations Officer Capt. Shaquille Dixon, who has been there since the beginning. He met her as the coordinator of her first pageant when they were both still in college. He later commissioned her as an officer in 2020 at their alma mater Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.
Gilbert started competing in scholarship pageants to work on her public speaking and networking skills during her first year of college. She made second runner-up in her first pageant — a scholarship pageant hosted by a local fraternity — but returned to win during her junior year in 2018.
She enlisted in the South Carolina National Guard as a cannon crew member that same year. Gilbert later commissioned active duty in 2020 as a signal officer.
After arriving at Fort Leonard Wood in May 2021 — her first duty station — Gilbert decided she wanted to continue competing in pageants. She chose the Miss America scholarship pageants because the focus is on the whole person, unlike beauty pageants, which focus mostly on physical appearance. She began looking for local opportunities and signed up for the next event, Miss Spirit of St. Louis.
Since their first meeting, Dixon said he has seen how much Gilbert has grown in both her Army career and pageantry. For him, the most noticeable difference has been her rise in confidence, which he said he feels directly impacted her latest win.
“She stood apart from the other girls with how she spoke, and I think she learned it from being an officer and having to speak to different people,” he said. “I think all those experiences culminated into one when she was on stage.”
Dixon said he is incredibly proud of Gilbert’s accomplishments in both professions, and he isn’t the only one.
“The 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment is very proud of 1st Lt. Gilbert’s accomplishments and looks forward to her continued success,” 3-10 Inf. Bn. Commander Lt. Col. Jarrad Glasenapp said. “She is a consummate professional, and her dedication and determination to grow both in her military career and pageantry speaks volumes about her character and values. She has great initiative and her achievements have had an enduring and positive impact on the battalion’s mission and readiness.”