By: Kaylah Jackson
WASHINGTON– For women in the military, sometimes life can feel like choosing between combat boots and heels, but the Ms. Veteran America competition has made it so female veterans no longer have to make that choice.
According to Department of Veteran Affairs, there are over 2 million female veterans in the United States, Puerto Rico and US Territories and women have been serving in the military as early as the Revolutionary War, beginning filling positions as nurses, cooks, and even disguising themselves as men to fight. Fast forward to present day and more women are serving in combat roles than ever. Most recently, a Marine Corps lieutenant was the first woman to graduate from the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course and Second Lt. Mariah Klenke has become the first female Marine Officer to graduate from Assault Amphibian School.
Women veterans are often stigmatized, discriminated against, and overshadowed, many people not even recognizing their status as veterans. The Ms. Veteran America competition is working to change that narrative while also promoting the awareness of the growing number of homeless female veterans in the United States, through their partnership with Final Salute.
For Jas Boothe, a U.S. Army Veteran, founder of the Ms. Veteran America competition and Final Salute, the annual event isn’t so much a pageant but a movement, to celebrate the contributions of women in the military and give an opportunity for female veterans of all branches to connect with each other in a male dominated industry.
“I don’t think there are stereotypes as much as being afraid of what women can accomplish…we’ve had three 4-star generals, we’ve had women that have completed the Army ranger course, so at this point I don’t know what a stereotype is,” says Boothe.
The competition featured 25 finalists, representing each branch of the Armed Services and National Guard and Reserve Units. The evening gown and talent portion allowed the women to highlight their personalities while the traditional swim suit modeling was replaced with a push up competition led by a female Drill Sergeant, representative of the strength of what it means to be a woman in uniform.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, these women fundraiser and continue to advocate for the thousands of homeless female veterans in the United States, who often face different challenges than their male counterparts.
“We definitely need to work on legislation and how we treat female service members, we need to take a look at their unique needs, we need to get the perspective of women,” said Lindsay Gutierrez, U. S. Air Force Veteran and Ms. Veteran America 2017.
For all of the women in the Ms. Veteran America competition and serving in the military, it’s not so much about choosing between two identities, but more about celebrating the fluidity of both and knowing the power in their service and sacrifice.