That’s what happened for Army Spc. Maura Spence-Carroll last month when she was named Miss Colorado 2021. The 21 year-old soldier is an intelligence analyst with the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division. She plans to use her pageant win to promote awareness of military mental health issues.
"We need to really address mental health now and show the new generations of soldiers that are coming through that mental health care is something we don't make a big deal about and that we don't think of it as being scary," she told Fox News. "It's just a thing we take care of."
And while there are pageants, such as Miss Veteran America, which specifically focus on military service, Spence-Carroll’s achievements are quite extraordinary in breaking barriers to make it at the Miss America level, dedication to a long career of military service, and championing the cause of mental health in the military.
She enlisted in 2018 after one semester of college. The Texas native competed in pageants from age 13 and she is the first active-duty soldier to win the Miss Colorado pageant after earning the title Miss Fort Carson. She is one of at least four military members who will compete for Miss America later this year. The Miss American Organization awards scholarships for education and Spence-Carroll was the recipient of $7,500 in addition to her state title.
“Because they seem like such polar opposites, being in the military and then competing in Miss America, it doesn’t mean that I am splitting myself. I’m wholly myself because I am able to enrich my life through different perspectives,” she said on Stripes.com.
Spence-Carroll had to put off a deployment to Iraq in order to compete, but remains committed to her service. She said, “I will extend through the deployment. You join because you want to do this. I'm hoping that when I'm in the reserves next year… that I can get a deployment or two under my belt."
The mental health stigma is important to her not only from the military lens but from a personal place as well. She grew up with anxiety, depression, and undiagnosed ADHD. Tragically, she lost her 5 year-old sister in 2015.
"I kind of had an epiphany when I started talking about how to stop service members from committing suicide is that we're not just trying to help the service members themselves but I don't want their family members to have to experience loss. It never leaves you," she said. "It's heavy on your shoulders for the rest of your life." She believes proactive, preventative care now is a solution to prevent service members and veterans from committing suicide.
In her unit, she is known for exceeding expectations.
"Spc. Spence has a fire in her that makes her very proactive,” says her unit's intelligence officer-in-charge, 1st Lt. Andrew Looss. “She is a self-starter who is able to get tasks done with minimal oversight. She is a team player and brings great energy to the battalion and the intelligence section."
Spence will compete in the Miss America 2022 pageant in December 2021 at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.