When I hear pageant, I think sequined evening gown, bouquet of red roses, a flood of tears sending streaks of black mascara down a perfectly made-up face. But this year, there was a brand new pageant. Even though there were evening gowns and high heels, the winner was not chosen solely based of her looks.
Ms. Veteran America was the brainchild of Jas Booth, a captain in the Army National Guard.
“No one ever comes up to me and says how great I look in uniform, or that I’m pretty, and its because we give up a certain amount of femininity to serve in the military. We basically have to blend in with the boys. Outside of the uniform, we’re mothers, we’re wives, we’re sisters, daughters. We dress up. We like pretty things too, just like any other woman. Most people can’t tell that just by looking at us. We basically just become our uniforms.”
So she invited any active duty female soldier, veteran or member of the National Guard to enter the Ms. Veteran America pageant. On October 7, 40 women were interviewed, tested on military history, showcased a talent and wore an evening gown at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, Va. Contestants ranged from 21 to 89 years old.
“Gladys, who was the World War II veteran, she was a part of the Coast Guard Reserve. She had a comedy routine, it reminded me of Carol Burnett, I mean, it was just awesome,” says Denyse Gordon, an Air Force Reserve Master Sergeant. Gordon was the first woman to be crowned Miss Veteran America.
“It’s such an honor. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be wearing a crown and a sash. It’s still very surreal.”
Denyse, 39, made sure there was no swimsuit competition before she applied, but she was happy to strut herself in an evening gown.
“It was really unique how they presented us,” Denyse explains. “A picture of us in our uniform was flashed up on the screen and then afterward we walked out in our glamorous evening gowns. So it was a really good contrast to show that we’re service members first and when we take off the uniform we can wear a glamorous gown, with four inch heels, and be able to do both admirably.”
The event is also a fundraiser for Final Salute, an organization founded by Jas that aims to help the 13,000 female homeless veterans in this country. They have a beautiful house in Virginia where women vets and their children can stay while they work on getting a job and housing. As the reigning Ms. Veteran America, Denyse will be the face of Final Salute.
“She becomes an active advocate for Final Salute on behalf of women veterans anywhere,” says Jas. “So she definitely has big shoes to fill. There’s a lot of community service she has to do [like] speaking engagements. She’s a busy lady and has a lot of responsibility.”
Even though beauty wasn’t the focus of the pageant, Jas says there was no shortage of it.
“To see the women coming out, looking like the prettiest women you ever saw, and thinking, these are soldiers, Marines, airman, sailors. It was just like, wow.”
If you’re a woman in the military, you can sign up for next year’s pageant here.