This month marks the 241st birthday of the U.S. Army, but it will also be the first year that one of its own reigns as Miss USA. This past Sunday evening, Deshauna Barber, a U.S. Army Reservist, was named to the title, also making her the first military service member to win the crown.
Deshauna Barber was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1989, and was raised in a true American military family. Her father, a former master sergeant whose wife also served, is now retired after 24 years. Barber’s brother and sister currently serve. Typical for military brats, she relocated multiple times with destinations that included North Carolina, Nebraska, Minnesota, Virginia, and finally Washington, D.C.
At 17, Barber joined the United States Army Reserve and continued to serve while attending Virginia State University and graduating with a degree in business management. She went on to work as an IT Analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Barber later became a quartermaster officer and logistics commander for the 988th Quartermaster Detachment Unit of the United States Army in Fort Meade, Maryland. She also earned her master’s degree in management information systems and services from the University of Maryland.
On December 19, 2015, Barber was crowned Miss District of Columbia USA 2016. She then competed for Miss USA 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. On June 5 this year, she won the competition, beating out the first runner-up Chelsea Hardin of Hawaii and second runner-up Emanii Davis from Georgia.
She will represent the U.S. at Miss Universe 2016 where she will compete to succeed the current titleholder, Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines.
Barber is passionate about women’s rights in the military. In response to a question about women serving combat roles in the Army, Barber stated, “As a woman in the United States Army, I think it was an amazing job by our government to allow women to integrate into every branch in the military. We are just as tough as men. As a commander of my unit, I’m powerful, I am dedicated, and it is important that we recognize that gender does not limit us in the United States.”
Her response generated rousing applause from the audience and doubtless contributed to her selection as Miss USA 2016.
"You do have your pageant stereotypes as being an airhead, being uneducated, not having a career," Barber later told “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts, herself a military brat. "And then on the military side, you have women stereotypes as being unattractive, being very masculine and I feel like both sides of the spectrum, I'm absolutely breaking the stereotypes." Her platform as Miss USA will also be focused on treatment for soldiers returning from deployments and suicide prevention in the armed forces. Barber hopes to use her Miss USA title to attract a national spotlight on the health issues veterans face, especially post-traumatic stress. This month is PTS Awareness Month.
As she wrote earlier this year on Instagram about a best friend serving in Afghanistan: "I will be honest, I am scared, and I miss her dearly. Coming from an Army family, I recognize the dangerous sacrifices soldiers make everyday and the anxiety that comes with knowing your loved one is overseas ... I thought to myself, What does it mean to wear this uniform and stand in front of our flag? I realize it means much more than just patriotism or love for a single nation. This uniform to me means standing up for LOVE and FREEDOM in a world that lacks it."
While Barber has set history as the first reigning Miss USA to be serving in the military, the spirit of service has shined before on the Miss USA stage. In 2014, Nia Sanchez held the crown. She is the daughter of a former sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division, and grand-daughter of a disabled veteran who served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.