By Craig ColemanOctober 31, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 31, 2007) -- Sgt. Jill Stevens, combat medic, recent university graduate and reigning Miss Utah 2007, visited wounded warriors Oct. 24 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"To me this was an opportunity to give back," Sgt. Stevens said during her visit to the hospital. She was accompanied by Sharlene Wells Hawkes, Miss America 1985, and William A. Chatfield, director of Selective Service.
The pageant-winning NCO also met with officials at the Pentagon and ran in the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 28.
Sgt. Stevens makes several personal appearances each day as Miss Utah, but this trip was different. She visited wounded warriors here both as a Miss America finalist and as a Soldier with the Utah National Guard.
During the hospital visit, Sgt. Stevens said there were similarities between the U.S. Army and the Miss America organization. "To me, they go hand-in-hand," she said. "Because they both promote education - helping you go to college, giving scholarships - both promote fitness as well, and, most importantly, giving back to your country."
Sgt. Stevens, a self-described "tomboy," participated in the Miss Southern Utah University pageant because, "I just wanted to do something feminine." She adapted well, learned to put on makeup and to walk in high heels. She won, and finished third in the Miss Utah 2006 pageant. She was convinced to try again, and was crowned Miss Utah 2007 at the state pageant in June. She will compete against the other Miss America 2008 finalists at the national pageant in Las Vegas Jan. 28, 2008.
"I loved the challenge," Sgt. Stevens said of participating in the pageants. "After getting into this I realized what this organization (Miss America) brought, why I'm in the military and the link between the Miss America organization and the military."
Sgt. Stevens said that her fellow contestants appreciate having a combat medic among their ranks and she enjoys incorporating her military life into the pageant world.
"It's kind of fun," she said. "Whenever girls get injured walking in high heels they yell, 'medic!' and I come running. I say, 'Grab your battle buddy' whenever we go anywhere as a group...We do pushups in evening gowns!"
The pageant world also spills into Sgt. Stevens' life as a Soldier whenever she drills. "They always laugh when I'm coming down the hall and start singing, 'There she is, Miss America!' Then I usually end up doing pushups."
Sgt. Stevens said she is grateful for the support of the other Soldiers in her unit. "It makes a world of difference for me. It's fun to have my buddies be there and want to support me in this endeavor; it's really great."
As far as she has traveled as a beauty contest winner, she has traveled even farther as a Soldier. In 2004, she deployed with the 211th Aviation Group to Afghanistan, where she spent one year caring for sick and injured Soldiers. After her return stateside, Sgt. Stevens completed her nursing degree and passed her board examinations to become a registered nurse.
She plans to use her new nursing credentials as an Army nurse, having submitted a application to become a commissioned officer.
Col. Patricia Horoho, Walter Reed Health Care System commander and an Army nurse, was pleased to hear of her decision to stay Army.
"I am actually very, very proud of her and that she has dedicated her life to the nursing profession, Col. Horoho said. "It speaks volumes about her and about her commitment - how she represents herself, the Army and the future of the nursing profession."
"I want to work here (at Walter Reed) and work with the Soldiers," Stevens said. "If I can help Soldiers - they're my battle buddies - that means a lot."
(Craig Coleman serves as assistant editor of the Stripe newspaper at Walter Reed.)
Read more about Sgt. Stevens' quest for the Miss America crown in the December issue of Soldiers magazine. You can also follow her progress on a special www.army.mil site that will go live Nov. 15.