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The Miss America Organization sent six former Miss Americas, a former Miss Utah and the chairman of the board to visit our men and women serving in Afghanistan.  And for those adventurous women, it doesn’t matter how old you are, when adventure and duty call, they’re up for it.  From  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=”From “>BeBe Shopp, Miss America 1948 who is 80 to Ericka Dunlap, Miss America 2004 who is in her late 20’s and is currently appearing on The Amazing Race with her husband, they exhibit an intrepid spirit and an inner fortitude.  The following is quoted from a press release issued by the Miss America Organization.

Miss America 1985 Sharlene Wells, Miss America 1948  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=””>BeBe Shopp, Miss America 1995 Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1981 Susan Powell, Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson, Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap and Miss America Organization Chairman of the Board, Sam Haskell, III are returning home from Afghanistan where they met thousands of U.S. and coalition troops.  Traveling along with our Miss Americas and Board Chairman was Miss Utah 2007 Jill Stevens Sheperd, a former combat medic deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-2005, and a Miss America finalist in 2007.

 

 

 Our six wonderful Miss Americas, Sam and Jill just spent the most amazing four days in Afghanistan after two days in Kuwait at Ali Al Salem Air Force Base where they met Wing Commander John R. Gordy and his staff.  They flew into Bagram Air Force Base last Thursday on an impressive C17 Cargo plane along with 150 soldiers and crew!

To begin their journey, they were fitted with bullet proof armor vests and helmets weighing 50 pounds each.  All of the Miss Americas, including 80 years young BeBe Shopp, carried their own armor.  Then they flew off via helicopters all over Afghanistan and other forward operating bases (FOBs), camps, including Command Central in New Kabul where they met personally with Major General John MacDonald and Lieutenant General Daniel Rodriguez. 

 

While in Afghanistan, Sam gave out over 500 copies of his book, Promises I Made My Mother to the soldiers, and one to each of the Generals.  The soldiers welcomed Sam and were thrilled to receive his book as their special gift that touched so many as a reminder of home. 

 Our Miss Americas brought cheers, laughter and even tears to our brave soldiers serving abroad. 

We are so proud to have had our Miss Americas, Sam and Jill travel to Afghanistan on such an important mission and so proudly represent America. We pray for their safe return to the U.S. and we send our thoughts and prayers for those serving our country so proudly, we salute our soldiers!”

 

My journey to write Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas has been full of the unexpected, the glorious and the mundane.  I explored a world I knew nothing about, met people I never would have met and challenged myself daily to be bold, all the while struggling against the inertia that fear of rejection creates.  The hardest part was picking up the phone, which for that brief moment became a malevolent alien endowed with the potential for pain, as I pounded the number for a former Miss America into the handset, hoping that she would say yes to an interview.

Who would have thought that this nice girl who grew up in Queens, NY (me) and only peeked at beauty queens on September Saturday nights in the Pageant’s earliest television days, when these women seemed like exotic creatures from another universe, would spend a year traversing the country, talking to Miss Americas, peering at what’s behind the myths, the perfect make-up, the talent, trumped up and genuine?

So after I met them, on my flight home, or waiting in terminals eating stale sandwiches, I would chronicle my first impressions of each of the twenty-two fabulous former Miss Americas that I met over the course of a year: Jean Bartel 1943, Lee Meriwether, 1955, Marilyn Van Derbur, 1958, Mary Ann Mobley, 1959, Lynda Mead, 1960, Donna Axum, 1964, Vonda  Van Dyke, 1965, Phyllis George, 1971, Rebecca King, 1974, Tawny Godin, 1976, Kylene Barker, 1979, Susan Powell, 1981, Gretchen Carlson, 1989, Heather Whitestone, 1995, Shawntel Smith, 1996, Tara Holland, 1997, Nicole Johnson, 1999, Heather French, 2000, Angela Baraquio, 2001, Ericka Dunlap, 2004, Deidre Downs, 2005, Jennifer Berry, 2006.

Only the first few surprised me with their warmth, wisdom and generous spirits.  After that, I realized that those were qualities that each one of the Miss Americas I interviewed, exhibited.  Watch for my first impressions of each one of these beautiful-from-the-inside out women in subsequent posts.

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