By Beth ReeceNovember 19, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 19, 2007) - One of the Army's own will take a shot at the "Miss America 2008" title Jan. 26 in Las Vegas and a new Army Web site will follow her progress.
A combat medic and Miss Utah 2007, Sgt. Jill Stevens is a member of the Utah National Guard's 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment. She will chronicle her preparation and competition in the Miss America pageant at www.army.mil/gijill.
The pageant will be broadcast live on TLC, and a new reality series will air the night before to help viewers get to know each of the 52 contestants. Sgt. Stevens will also be featured in the cover story of the December issue of Soldiers magazine.
Sgt. Stevens had just started nursing school at Southern Utah University in the fall of 2005 when the school's pageant director recruited her to run for Miss SUU.
"I was like, 'Yeah, right.' I wear combat boots; I don't do heels," she said.
But the chance to serve and help others - much like she does in uniform - through politics and community, attracted Sgt. Stevens to pageantry. That year she won Miss SUU and went on to become second runner-up in the 2006 Miss Utah pageant.
"At that point I was done," she said. "I had learned so much about myself, and it was great that, as a Soldier, I'd made it so far." But friends urged her to go for the crown.
"I knew Jill could win. She's so multifaceted, and many of the girls are one-dimensional," said Sharlene Wells-Hawkes, a former Miss America and recent judge. "Her whole life story sets her apart from others. She's a renaissance woman."
As Miss Utah 2007, Sgt. Stevens travels the state and across America to spread the word on emergency preparedness. She also gives motivational talks to students about her slogan, "Lock and Load," which she translates to "Be ready for anything and make every moment count." And last month she visited Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and ran the Marine Corps Marathon.
Sgt. Stevens joined the Army National Guard six months before 9/11. Two years later, she deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, where she cared for 10 to 40 Soldiers a day at the medical aid station.
It was in Afghanistan that retired Sgt. 1st Class Lee Porter predicted Sgt. Stevens would one day be Miss America, a year before she considered entering a pageant. "She's an all-around amazing girl, the type of person who's going to make a difference in people's lives," he said.
The divide between Soldier and beauty queen, beret and tiara, evening gown and Army combat uniform, is not so vast to Sgt. Stevens.
"To me, they go hand in hand. The military wants people to get an education, to be fit and, above all, to serve. It's the same with Miss America. They also want you to be educated; they also promote fitness; and the biggest part is service. Both teach you to be leaders."
Which title best suits her'
"Oh, definitely the Soldier," she said. "I show up to my Miss Utah events in uniform. In parades, I'm in uniform instead of an evening gown to show that this is who I am."
Sgt. Stevens' journey through pageantry and the Army's ranks will be featured in the December issue of "Soldiers" magazine, available at www.army.mil/publications