Miss USA is not the first place you check when looking for respect, but Deshauna Barber just might change that. The 26-year-old Army Reserves officer went from Miss District of Columbia to Miss USA last night at the 65th annual pageant when she proved she could do three things better than the rest: wear an evening gown, wear a bikini and heels simultaneously, and answer challenging questions.
And she answered a very tough (and very on brand for 2016) question to win the crown. When judge Joe Zee asked the first lieutenant what her thoughts were on criticism toward the Pentagon for its decision to put women in combat (specifically, that it was taking political correctness too far), she had a winning answer at the ready.
“As a woman in the United States Army, I think it was an amazing job by our government to allow women to integrate to every branch of the military. We are just as tough as men,” she said to a cheering crowd. “As a commander of my unit, I am powerful. I am dedicated. And it is important that we recognize that gender does not limit us in the United States Army.”
As the first-ever military member to win the title, Barber was well aware of the boundaries she was pushing both in the pageantry community and the military going into the competition. “There’s stereotypes on both sides that I feel like I’m breaking by even being here and being able to compete for Miss USA,” she said. “I’m being able to say that no one pageant girl does the same thing or has the same background, and I’m also saying that no one soldier has the same background and does the same thing.”
Winning the title means means Barber will go on to represent the United States in the Miss Universe contest later this year. And according to PageantNews.com, she’ll also get a year’s salary and an apartment in New York—she’s moving to the city today—along with living expenses, so that she can spend the year promoting her chosen causes. For Barber, this means she’ll take a year off from her job as an IT analyst for the U.S. government and her Army Reserves post to address veterans’ issues, particularly suicide and PTSD among veterans and military members.
She won’t be the first Miss USA to do good, but she does make us hopeful about the future of the aging contest. Watch her react to the win below in a video posted on Miss USA’s Twitter account.