Under normal circumstances, Army Spc. Maura Spence-Carroll – who was crowned Miss Colorado 2021 earlier this year – would be getting herself ready for an upcoming deployment overseas.
Instead, she’s helping her fellow soldiers prepare for their rotation to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and will remain in Fort Carson near Colorado Springs.
“I volunteered and then my unit said ‘No you’re going to have to go to Miss America’ – this is before I was Miss Colorado… so they didn’t put me on the manifest,” she told Fox News.
Spence-Carroll, 21, an intelligence analyst with the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, will stay behind with other active-duty soldiers in her unit as she prepares for December’s Miss America pageant in Connecticut.
The Katy, Texas native has been competing in pageants for years. She joined the Army in 2018 after one semester of college when she realized the cost and accumulation of debt was not worth the pursuit of a degree. One day, an online Army advertisement got her attention and she enlisted after speaking with a friend who had served.
As Miss Colorado, one of her passion projects is addressing mental health within the military and veteran community and erasing the stigma attached to it. Growing up, she lived with anxiety, depression and undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Last year, she reached out for help and was officially diagnosed with ADHD after initially struggling in the Army.
“We need to really address mental health now and show the new generations of soldiers that are coming through that mental health care is something we don’t make a big deal about and that we don’t think of it as being scary,” she said. “It’s just a thing we take care of.”
Her resolve comes from a series of crushing challenges, including the death of her 5-year-old sister who drowned in 2015 after falling off a dock. Spence-Caroll said she knows her sister is always with her, especially during pageant competitions.
“I have a collection of photos where I’m wearing my crown and sash from being a local teen title holder… and she just wanted to be right next to me,” she said. “We were very close even though we had that big age gap.”
“I kind of had an epiphany when I started talking about how to stop service members from committing suicide is that we’re not just trying to help the service members themselves but I don’t want their family members to have to experience loss. It never leaves you,” she said. “It’s heavy on your shoulders for the rest of your life. I watched how my mother suffered.”
At her funeral, Spence Carroll promised her sister would take her to Miss America.
“Now that I’ve won Miss Colorado and am heading to Miss America, I feel like I’m fulfilling that promise to her,” she said, according to an Army news release.
The unfortunate death of her sister was paired the following year with the passing of her grandfather, Bob Boyett. He was an Air Force veteran who worked in military intelligence at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs and was involved in at least four plane crashes and worked with the CIA after his military service, Spence-Carroll said.
Along with her sister, they are her primary motivation, she said. Her grandfather instilled in her a sense of service and a strong work ethic, she said.
Spence-Carroll’s entry into the world of beauty pageants began when she was 13 at the urging of her mother, who spent years as a professional singer in a Celtic folk-rock band and taught her daughter classical music.
“I guess just being a weird kid in general, I would loiter on the playground,” she said. “She thought it would really be a good idea to do something to help boost my confidence. When she first told me I could compete, I was so excited. I was thrilled.”
“The thing it helped me realize is that there is no one idea of beauty,” she added. “We tend to think of beauty as you’re either pretty or you’re not and there isn’t a binary in this world. Being involved in this organization and doing what I do there’s going to be days where people think I’m beautiful and others don’t. I shouldn’t change myself or change the way that I think or feel or present myself because that’s not being authentic.”
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Her road to Miss America began in February when she was crown Miss Fort Carson. Afterward, she was “the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life” with COVID-19 and had to be quarantined from other soldiers.
She’s excited to compete for the Miss America crown but disappointed she won’t get to deploy to Iraq with her unit, she said.
“I said ‘I will extend through the deployment,’” Spence-Carroll said. “You join because you want to do this. I’m hoping that when I’m in the reserves next year… that I can get a deployment or two under my belt.”