Utah Guard's 'G.I. Jill' Runs in

Marine Corps Marathon

 

By Staff Sgt. Mary Flynn, National Guard Bureau

Published October 31, 2007

 

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Reigning Miss Utah Sgt. Jill Stevens, Utah National Guard, just after crossing the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 28.

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.

ARLINGTON, Va. What’s another marathon, really, when you’re Jill Stevens?

The 2007 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 3 hours.

It’s the third marathon she’s run since winning the pageant title in June. “I love challenges,” she said. “That’s why I joined the military.”

No, 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. 

She 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.

Wearing 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 them!”

Jill Stevens, left, visits with Halima, a young Afghan girl who received eyesight-saving surgery through the efforts of Utah Soldiers in 2004.

Photo courtesy of Jill Stevens

Jill Stevens, left, visits with Halima, a young Afghan girl who received eyesight-saving surgery through the efforts of Utah Soldiers in 2004.

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.

The 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.”

She soon 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.”

One way 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. 

TAPS offers peer support and assists survivors through a wide variety of programs, including programs for youths.

Jill Stevens, right, visits with Staff Sgt. John Faulkenberry, from  Midland, Texas,  at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Oct. 24.

Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Roger Mommaearts, Jr.

Jill Stevens, right, visits with Staff Sgt. John Faulkenberry, from

 Midland, Texas,  at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Oct. 24.

“[I’m running] for my battle buddies and their families, people who have lost loved ones over there,” she said.

While in D.C., 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.”

Stevens intends to participate in more marathons before her reign as Miss Utah is over. In each one, she will run for TAPS.

Stevens 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 Soldier presented.

“I wondered, ‘Can I hack that?’” she recalls.

Today, 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 nurse. 

Stevens 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].”

Sgt. Jill Stevens gives a presentation to a group of visiting foreign military officers at Hill Air Force Base Apr. 13.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Sgt. Jill Stevens gives a presentation to a group of visiting

foreign military officers at Hill Air Force Base Apr. 13.

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.

Her 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 fullest.

“I love 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.”

Stevens will compete for the Miss America crown in January 2008.