Wednesday 28 September 2016

Soldier-turned Miss USA gets world's atten-shun

Published 06/06/2016 | 06:41

Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber is crowned Miss USA by Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan (Las Vegas Review-Journal /AP)
Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber is crowned Miss USA by Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan (Las Vegas Review-Journal /AP)

An army officer who battled her way to become the new Miss USA has no intention of holding her fire on the subject of women in combat.

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"As a woman in the United States Army, I think we are just as tough as men. As a commander of my unit, I'm powerful, I am dedicated," Deshauna Barber said.

"Gender does not limit us in the United States."

Ms Barber, 26, is the first military member to win the Miss USA beauty contest held in Las Vegas and will now compete in the Miss Universe event.

After her triumph the lieutenant from north-east District of Columbia said she planned to take a break from the Army Reserves and had already discussed with superiors the possibility of going inactive for a couple of years should she win the title. She currently serves two days a month.

"My commander should be watching right now," she said. "Two days a month is definitely not active duty. It is an obligation that I signed up for but they are very flexible in the United States Army Reserves."

Ms Barber said she plans to use the pageant's spotlight and her title to support veterans' causes and tackle the issue of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder among military members.

When asked what message she had for the presidential candidates - including former pageant owner and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump - Barber said they should focus more on forces issues including the backlog at veterans' hospitals.

"I think that a lot of the topics that they discuss isn't as important," she said, sporting a glittering gold gown.

Ms Barber is not the only contestant who had to address the election and Mr Trump, who had a public break-up with the beauty pageant organisation last year.

Mr Trump offended Hispanics when he made anti-immigrant remarks in announcing his bid for the White House last June. At the he time co-owned The Miss Universe Organisation with NBCUniversal, but the network and the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision quickly cut ties with him, refusing to air the show.

Mr Trump sued both networks, eventually settling and selling off the entire pageant to talent management company WME/IMG.

Miss Hawaii, who came second in the contest, punted during the question-and-answer segment when asked who she would vote for among the likely presidential candidates, Mr Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Chelsea Hardin acknowledged that there was no way to correctly answer the question during the beauty pageant. The question was framed with Mrs Clinton's likely status of being the first woman nominated by a major political party in the race for the White House.

But the 24-year-old college student from Honolulu responded that gender did not matter when deciding America's next commander in chief.

The other women in the top five were asked about voting rights, income inequality and the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

The beauty pageant organisation did not shy away from addressing another controversy from last year - Miss Universe, when host S teve Harvey made a cameo in a video at the start of the Miss USA show to poke fun at the Miss Universe crowning that he botched in December.

Harvey was hosting Miss Universe last year when he mistakenly named Colombia's Ariadna Gutierrez Arevalo the winner before correcting himself on the stage. Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach of the Philippines was then given the crown.

Officials later said it was due to human error. The talk show host said he had re-read the card and noticed it said "first runner-up" next to the Colombia contestant's name before clarifying his mistake with producers.

He took to Twitter after Miss USA on Sunday night to mock himself again by highlighting the similarity of the two locations, the District of Columbia and the country of Colombia.

Press Association

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