LAS VEGAS (AP) — The newly crowned Miss USA is a 26-year-old Army officer from the District of Columbia who gave perhaps the strongest answer of the night when asked about women in combat.
“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.”
The winner of Sunday’s 2016 Miss USA competition held at the T-Mobile Arena off the Las Vegas Strip will go on to compete in the Miss Universe contest.
Barber is the first-ever military member to win Miss USA. In a press conference following the event, the 26-year-old lieutenant from Northeast DC said she plans 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 said she currently serves two days per month.
“My commander should be watching right now,” Barber 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.”
Barber said she plans to use the pageant’s spotlight and her title to support veteran’s 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 veteran’s issues, including the backlog at veterans hospitals.
“I think that a lot of the topics that they discuss isn’t as important,” she said in a glittering gold gown.
Barber’s not the only contestant who had to address the election and the Republican candidate, who had a public break-up with the beauty pageant organization last year.
Trump offended Hispanics when he made anti-immigrant remarks in announcing his bid for the White House last June. He at the time co-owned The Miss Universe Organization with NBCUniversal, but the network and the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision quickly cut ties with him, refusing to air the show. Trump sued both networks, eventually settling and selling off the entire pageant to talent management company WME/IMG.
Miss Hawaii, who came in second Sunday night, punted during the question-and-answer segment when asked who she would vote for among the likely presidential candidates, 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 Clinton’s likely status of being the first woman nominated by a major political party in the race for the White House. The 24-year-old college student from Honolulu responded that gender doesn’t matter when deciding the next commander in chief.
The other women in the top five were asked about voting rights, income inequality and the recent death of sports icon Muhammad Ali.
Fan favorite Miss California, Nadia Grace Mejia, had stumbled and paused when answering a question about social and economic inequality. The 20-year-old model, who is the daughter of the 1990s one-hit-wonder singer Gerardo, known for “Rico Suave,” had also talked about suffering from anorexia and wanting to promote body confidence earlier in the show.
The beauty pageant organization also didn’t shy away from addressing another controversy from last year — Miss Universe.
Steve Harvey made a cameo in a video at the start of the Miss USA show to poke fun of 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 with producers his mistake.
He took to Twitter after Miss USA Sunday night to mock himself again by highlighting the similarity of the two locations, the District of Columbia and the country of Colombia.
Follow Sally Ho at twitter.com/_sallyho. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/sally-ho