Women affiliated with the military are a unique, multifaceted breed with a variety of talents. When Army Reserve officer Deshauna Barber was recently crowned Miss USA 2016, she redefined strength, beauty and femininity. These traits are often placed on the back burner when one pursues her own military career or supports that of her spouse.

How Beauty Pageants Empowered These Military Women
Photo Credit: Leah Basile

The Duality of the Military Woman

Retired Air Force MSgt Heather Spears experienced this firsthand. “When I joined the military so long ago, I had a rude awakening when I enlisted as an aircraft mechanic. I had to drop any trace of femininity and assimilate with my male counterparts or I was going to fail miserably.” She reflects that she felt like a forgotten woman.

Heather pressed on and became “one of the guys.” She shares, “When I had children, I became aware of my lost femininity.  I slowly found it when I nursed both my children and began to see that being a mom and a woman were very important roles I had to embrace.” She took office jobs in her career field to better raise her children while working a normal shift.

Today Heather is an Iraqi War Veteran who retired from active duty after 22 years of service. Heather has been awarded the prestigious Gold Presidential Volunteer Award 2013, the Active Duty Volunteer of the Year Award 2013, and the Military Volunteer Service Medal. She also has discovered the enriching value of pageants.

Heather Spears
(Ret) Air Force MSgt Heather Spears

Celebrating Our Milspouses in Japan

When Heather PCS’d to Yokota Air Base in Feb 2009, she was recruited to work with the Mrs. Yokota Scholarship Pageant. The event’s organizer, Jennifer Esser, promoted empowerment and reminded that the military wife should never forget that she is a woman of many talents.  Heather describes, “I was excited that there wasn’t a focus on physical appearance that pageants tend to promote. There was no need for a bikini category as the military wife comes in all shapes and sizes and should be proud of whatever one they happen to be.”

Heather placed 4th runner up and recalls, “I loved the whole process of completely peeling off the military persona and stepping into a gorgeous and glamorous gown and pushing myself to meet a challenge I never thought possible before.”

When the pageant was disbanded due to budget restraints in 2011, Heather took the lead. “My own experience was so life changing and I wanted to facilitate this life altering challenge for other women to experience,” she shares.  After 800 volunteer hours, fundraising, and money from her own pocket, the pageant was reborn and renamed.

“It became the Mrs. Sakura Scholarship Pageant because it embraced the changing of the season,” explains Heather. “Just as the Japanese Sakura flowers bloom each spring, so too does the military wife in her constant moves, dealing with deployed spouses, adjusting schedules, new jobs, and creating a family of her own away from all that she knows. She is still able to create anew, embrace whatever challenge presents itself and serve her community as the true leader that she is; she embraces her own empowerment.”

Meet Amy Gurule, Mrs. Sakura 2016

Army wife Amy Gurule discovered the pageant as she PCS’d from Germany to Japan. She recognized the opportunity to quickly embed herself into her new community, meet people, and set an example for her two young boys. “I thought the idea of being the voice of the military spouse would be an amazing opportunity,” she explains. “It took me up until the deadline to make my decision because I was scared. What if I failed, but what if I didn’t even try?” Although Amy was attracted to the scholarship and the opportunity to wear a dress and heels, she shares, “It wasn’t about winning or losing, but about going outside my comfort zone, trying my best, and just having fun while doing it.”

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Army wife Amy Gurule gets crowned Mrs. Sakura 2016. Photo credit: Leah Basile

Although Amy had undergone three oral surgeries in one week, she successfully competed with her happy-go-lucky attitude. During the process she was interviewed, participated in an opening number, a fitness portion, an evening gown portion and an onstage question. Highlights for Amy were being joined by one of her sons onstage, and being escorted by her husband.

Amy, who aspires to become a midwife, presented her winning platform of Mother’s Fitness and Support. “I want to provide opportunities for pregnant mothers and spouses to start their family off right together, by providing continuous education on the birth process and how to care for their newborn,” shares Amy. She would also love to see child-friendly fitness opportunities so that women can set an example for their children while simultaneously staying fit and creating new friendships and bonds with other mothers.     

Some of Amy’s recent and upcoming appearances include AFN, the Special Olympics, Princess for a Day, a golf tournament, Friendship Festival, EFMP Family Day, the Air Force Ball and the Japanese Fussa Pageant, just to name a few.

Amy will use the scholarship money to help pay off her school loan. She is working on her IBCLC and is finishing her RN.

Amy closes with, “For me, being Mrs. Sakura means being an example of resilience, strength, integrity, resourcefulness, understanding, a friend and having balance. Being a military woman, one has to be.” She encourages others to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. “There is nothing to lose, and so much to gain.”  

About the Mrs. Sakura Organization

The Mrs. Sakura Organization is a group dedicated to the amazing, diverse woman and her family on Yokota Air Base, Japan. Each year, they host the annual Mrs. Sakura Scholarship Pageant, community programs, social events and workshops to educate, inspire and motivate the amazing women and their families. To learn more about the Mrs. Sakura Organization, please visit http://www.mrssakuraorganization.com.

Jackie Toops Head ShotA self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.



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