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Minnesotan Trades Crown for Cammies

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2007 – A 22-year-old college student recently traded her beauty-queen tiara for the Kevlar helmet she'll wear when she deploys with her Minnesota Army National Guard unit to Iraq.

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Army Spec. Jessica Gaulke poses with Ted Zwieg, commodore of the Minneapolis Aquatennial, during her candidacy for 2007 Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

For the past six months, Jessica Gaulke’s life has been about college classes and making appearances as Minneapolis’ 2007 Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes, but soon it will focus on helping lead Iraq to a peaceful democracy.

The Augsburg College senior studying sociology will be deploying as Spc. Jessica Gaulke with the 2nd Battalion, 147th Assault Helicopter Battalion. The unit is scheduled to start training at Fort Hood, Texas, this spring in advance of a yearlong tour in Iraq.

“I’m feeling strong to go. The training I’ve received is good training, and I’m prepared,” Gaulke said. But her military obligation, which she accepted in February 2002 when she joined the National Guard, has ended her rein as Queen of the Lakes.

Although it was never her lifelong ambition to win a beauty pageant, she said the abbreviated experience has been wonderful. So, although she admits it was bittersweet to hand over her crown Jan. 4, she said she feels no resentment.

“I’ve heard this whole time that, ‘You could go. You never know when you’re going to go, but you could go at any time and they don’t even have to give you notice,’” Gaulke said. “I’m thankful for the six months that I’ve had (as Queen of the Lakes). Of course, I would have liked to finish the year out, but what I’ve experienced has been amazing.”

During the six months as Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes, she juggled her National Guard drill duties and schoolwork with her public appearances, she said.

“I do it pretty well, actually. I’ve had to do a couple of changes in my car going from drill to parades,” Gaulke said. “I think maybe this is changing the whole outlook on the pageant system and scholarship programs because it’s not all about the glitz and glam.

“It’s really about the person you are,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t look the best, but people understand.”

Although she’s been dubbed the “Brave Beauty,” Gaulke said she won her crown based on who she is. “There’s no swimsuit, there’s no gown or fishbowl questions, things like that we normally see in Miss America,” she said. “It’s based on your school, your volunteer experience, what you’re active in currently.”

Gaulke carries a 3.3 grade point average and volunteers as a coach for her high school lacrosse team in the spring. She also works with the Minneapolis-based Open Arms, an organization that makes and delivers meals for residents with HIV/AIDS.

For the down-to-earth beauty queen, trading her crown for cammies is no big deal. “Switching one for the other … I signed up for it and I knew it was a possibility,” Gaulke said.

There’s another major life event on the near horizon that makes giving up her crown to head to Iraq seem easy in comparison. “I’m getting married next week,” she said, adding that her newlywed husband, whom she’ll be leaving behind soon, will take care of their two dogs and the new home the couple just purchased.

“I’m excited and I think life is bringing me in the right direction,” she said. “Things happen for a reason.”

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