Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Flynn
Reigning Miss Utah Sgt. Jill Stevens,
Utah National Guard, just
after crossing the finish line of the
Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 28.
What’s another marathon, really, when you’re Jill Stevens?
Miss Utah is no stranger to the physical and mental
discipline required to knock out 26.2 miles. She ran the
Marine Corps Marathon in Washington on Oct. 28 finishing in
about 3½ hours.
third marathon she’s run
since winning the pageant title in
June. “I love challenges,” she said. “That’s why I joined
that’s not a misprint. For one weekend a month and two
weeks in the summer, Miss Utah becomes Sgt. Stevens of the
Utah National Guard.
trades in her high heels and gown for combat boots and ACUs,
her bouquet of roses for a combat medic aid bag, and her
sparkling tiara for a beret or patrol cap.
the uniform, she says, feels more natural to her. “I’m
first-off a Soldier. Always,” said Stevens, who had
originally laughed at the idea of participating in a beauty
pageant. “I don’t do heels. I didn’t even know where to buy
Having deployed as a combat medic with the 1st of the
211th Aviation Group in April 2004 to Afghanistan,
Steven’s lifestyle isn’t what one would expect of the
typical beauty queen.
25-year-old had previously shared the same opinion of beauty
pageant contestants that many people hold. “I thought that
all these girls do is wave their hand, look pretty and do
nothing. I didn’t want to be associated with that.”
discovered, however, that the organization actually had a
lot in common with the military. The Miss America program
promotes education and teaches leadership, she says. It also
promotes fitness and well-being, while focusing on bringing
out one’s best.
“I saw a
great opportunity that would open doors,” she said,
referring to the titleholder’s position as a chance to start
organizations or pass bills to create change. “[These women]
can move people to action and really make a difference.”
Stevens has chosen to make a difference is by raising funds
and awareness for the Tragedy Assistance Program for
Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit organization dedicated to
providing a support network for the families of those who
have died in service.
offers peer support and assists survivors through a wide
variety of programs, including programs for youths.
Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Roger
Jill Stevens, right, visits with
Staff Sgt. John Faulkenberry, from
Midland, Texas, at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center Oct. 24.
running] for my battle buddies and their families, people
who have lost loved ones over there,” she said.
Stevens met with some of the families and visited
Soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “I
thought of them along this run. I’m doing this for them.”
intends to participate in more marathons before her reign as
Miss Utah is over. In each one, she will run for TAPS.
was first exposed to the National Guard when recruiters set
up a booth in her high school. Beyond the tuition assistance
and the hands-on medical experience she would receive as a
combat medic, she was drawn to the challenge that being a
wondered, ‘Can I hack that?’” she recalls.
the recent graduate of Southern Utah University has a
bachelor’s in nursing, 12 marathons under her belt, six
years as a combat medic in the Utah National Guard and she’s
just applied for a direct commission to become an Army
attributes much of her success to her experiences in the
Guard. “The military has really, truly provided me with a
lot of opportunity” in addition to teaching her to make the
best of a difficult situation, she said. “I turned
Afghanistan into a positive experience, an incredible
experience, and I’m able to share [it].”
Since her return in April 2005, Stevens has frequently
been invited to give talks on her experiences. She said
it’s an opportunity to give back, one that has only been
fueled since her venture into pageantry.
schedule is packed with speaking engagements at junior high
and elementary schools, where she discusses her platform –
“Ready When Disaster Strikes: Emergency Preparedness for
Everyone,” and teaches the importance of living life to the
giving back,” she says, citing her opportunities as a
Soldier, a medic, a nurse and now, a titleholder, “It gives
me the best feeling in life – it’s my passion.”
will compete for the Miss America crown in January 2008.