Military women and beauty contests don’t usually go hand in hand.
But Miss Veteran America, an event in its second year, is striving to change that. Locally, Tonya Rupe, a Granville graduate and current Rutland resident, is trying her hand at the contest starting with regional tryouts this June.
The 23-year-old woman joined the New York Army Guard as a junior in high school and later deployed to Iraq for a year in 2010. In 2012 she transferred to the Vermont Guard, where she is currently serving as a staff sergeant.
Rupe said the event is more about giving back than rating beauty.
“The theme is ‘the woman behind the uniform.’ It’s the inner beauty rather than something outward,” she said. The event was created to support Final Salute, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless female veterans and their children.
Rupe said there isn’t much awareness about this issue, which is more prevalent than many people realize. While most people associate men with the military and military-related problems, a significant number of women slip through the cracks.
“Less people consider females, but you’re doing the same job as the man next to you,” she said.
In addition to benefitting a little-known cause, Miss Veteran also highlights women in uniform, who are often asexualized in society’s eyes.
“You lose femininity in a uniform. Active duty goes beyond Monday through Friday — it’s your life, and you don’t get to look like a woman,” Rupe said.
And it’s not just typical beauties who win the contest.
“There are no height and weight standards or age limit in the program; last year’s runner-up was in her 80s. It doesn’t matter if you served in 1940 or you’re serving right now,” Rupe said.
To achieve the title of Miss Veteran, a current or previous member of the armed forces will have to fare well in the four main categories of advocacy, interview, talent and military history. There are also extra categories such as resilience, selfless service, and she means business. Rupe thinks she is the only contestant in this area and is looking to place in the social butterfly category.
“I’m very excited; I’m looking for support from the community. Part of that is likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter,” she said. To show talent Rupe will play saxophone, a skill she credits Crystal Everdyke with helping her hone.
Rupe used to be a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Granville and initially joined the military as a way to give back to her community. She continues to do so today.
“I really would like to be a voice. I want to spread the word of what’s going on,” she said.
If she wins she will serve as spokesperson for Final Salute for one year, and she will receive $15,000 toward a vehicle, education or business.
To like Rupe on Facebook or follow her Twitter, search for TonyaR4mva2013.