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September 21, 2018

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2016 Miss USA: Contestants include Army officer, professor, trauma nurse, lawyers

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2016 Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber.

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2016 Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber.

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2016 Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber.

2016 Miss USA Pageant: Prelims

The 2016 Miss USA Pageant preliminary competition Wednesday, June 1, 2016, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

2016 Miss USA Pageant: Events

2016 Miss USA Pageant contestants attend Blue Man Group at the Luxor. Launch slideshow »

2016 Miss USA contestants

2016 Miss USA fashion show

They are blondes, brunettes and redheads. They are Caucasians, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and some have foreign-born parents. But they all have something in common: They are smart, and they are gorgeous.

They stand out as stunning beauties. They are this year’s 52 hopefuls battling to win the 2016 Miss USA Pageant crown and title during Sunday’s Fox telecast from T-Mobile Arena with co-hosts Julianne Hough and Terrence “J” Jenkins.

A first-glance observer would probably cast a quick look over the smiles that never stop, the curves that fill the briefest of bikinis, the perfect movie-star model makeup and the flowing hair and think, “No brains, just beauty.”

Oh, how wrong they would be.

This year’s striking 2016 Miss USA contestants include four lawyers, a university professor, trauma center nurse, broadcast journalism graduates and U.S. Army logistics commander about to make captain.

One of the highlight video packages shown during Wednesday night’s preliminary pageant featured the transformation in high-speed motion of the contestants in their daily work outfits into pageant princesses in their glittering gowns.

Off came the scrubs, military fatigues and motorcycle stunt suit, and they stripped down to bras and panties. In came dressers, makeup artists and hairstylists, and on went the dresses. In seconds, the transformation was complete, and you’d hardly recognize the same woman.

The transformation video proved that the Miss USA Pageant is very much about beauty and brains. It was never more apparent than with 26-year-old Deshauna Barber, who works as an IT analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., and is commissioned as a logistics commander for the 988th Quartermaster Detachment Unit in Fort Meade, Md.

Due to her father’s military career, she relocated multiple times while growing up crisscrossing North Carolina, Nebraska, Minnesota, Virginia and finally to Washington, D.C. Deshauna graduated with a bachelor’s in business management from Virginia State University.

Being the daughter of a retired Army master sergeant, it’s no surprise that she decided to join the Army and commissioned as a quartermaster officer in 2011.

Her passion is serving the men and women in the military, and her platform focuses specifically on PTSD treatment for soldiers returning from overseas deployments and suicide prevention in the Armed forces.

While here on her first visit to Las Vegas, Deshauna worked with the USO and took part in the “Operation That’s My Dress” fashion show at Bally’s that gave Las Vegas military teens the opportunity to select a cocktail dress or gown donated by fashion designer Sherri Hill.

Deshauna paired with the military teens and their moms to help them find the dress of their dreams. The USO uses the mentoring to pay its gratitude to military families for their sacrifices and the challenges the military teens experience because of frequent moves and deployments.

Deshauna talked with me after working out her pageant rivals with a “drop and give me 20” pushup routine. It looked punishing, but they all made it.

You are in the military, your family is in the military. Tell me about them and you.

My father, mother, sister, brother, all Army. My dad served 24 years — he was Special Forces. He went through numerous tours. My mother also served — that’s actually where my father and mother met. After having my sister, my mother decided to become a stay-at-home mom while my dad continued to serve in the military.

My siblings and I knew when we graduated from high school that we wanted to join. I joined at 17 years old, and my sister and brother joined at 18 right after high school. I ended up going through the ROTC program at university and commissioned to be officer in the United States Army in 2011. It’s been the greatest decision I’ve ever made.

Where do you serve now? Have you been in action?

I have not seen any action overseas. But I have been officially an officer for five years. I’ve been in command at a logistics unit at Fort Meade, Md., for two years now. It’s been amazing — really amazing.

Forgive me for asking the obvious, but how do the guys react to a gorgeous girl being their commanding officer?

Yeah, that’s one of those things. I don’t mean to laugh, but that’s actually one of the challenges about women in the military. Especially if you’re an attractive woman, if you’re well put together. They assume, I guess they assume, that beauty is somewhat affiliated with weakness.

So it’s always cool to be in a rucksack march, and I have 40 pounds on my back, and there’s a 200-pound guy with the same 40 pounds on his back, and I’m a mile ahead of him in a ruck march. Those types of things really empower me.

It shows me that women are capable of anything. So, to answer your question, yes, they always assume that you’re weak until it comes down to who can endure the most. I think women are even stronger than men sometimes.

Have you done all of those exercises of climbing six-foot walls in military fatigues and boots?

Yes, sir. I’ve had my fair share of physical challenges. We have our obstacle courses, we have our PT assessment tests where we’re required to do certain things. Automatically, people assume that you’re weak, and it comes down to who wants it the most.

When I joined the military, I knew that I was very slim. I’ve always been very small. But I definitely don’t allow that to make me feel as if I’m limited in terms of my physical capabilities, as well as my mental capabilities.

Is the Army rooting for you this weekend, or do only the people in your camp know that you’ve entered Miss USA?

I’ve been spreading the word. My unit’s been spreading the word. I know that I’m extremely well known in D.C. right now, and I’ve been trying to make sure everyone knows internationally that I’ll be competing.

My best friend’s actually deployed in Afghanistan, so a lot of her unit will be watching on Fox and the Internet. I’ve got support from all around the globe.

Is a pageant tougher than going to do battle against ISIS?

I doubt that — it’s a different type of toughness. It will definitely be extreme to compare. But I will say when we’re fighting terrorism, it’s something that can be very, very, very physically and mentally demanding. Whereas a beauty pageant is … a passion, but it’s not where you’re trying to fight for your life.

If President Obama called you up and wanted you to lead the battle in Iraq, you’d go?

I’d be there in a heartbeat. That’s what I signed up for 10 years ago, and that’s a commitment that I still stand on today.

Doesn’t it frighten you? Doesn’t it concern you?

No, it doesn’t. I think that when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. If your life happens to make the ultimate sacrifice for this country, I think it’s the best way.

Where does a little girl get that courage and conviction?

I would have to say my mother and father. They definitely keep me strong, and my siblings, as well. Both my siblings, my brother and sister, were deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

It was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to deal with, but when they came back, they came back stronger. They taught me so many things in terms of how to be mentally strong. My entire family keeps me strong.

I’m a first lieutenant, and I should be making captain next month. Hopefully I’ll be on that promotion list when it comes out. At 26, I know it’s a little bit young.

Do you love being in the Army?

I do. There’s something about putting on that uniform that makes everything work out.

You would encourage kids in America to follow in your boots?

I would, and if you don’t decide to serve in the military capacity, there are other ways to serve this nation. I think everyone should do some sort of community service, military service, some sort of service for this nation, because that’s what keeps us going.

This event with the USO serving Las Vegas military teens is something special to you?

It’s very important. I actually participated in “That’s My Dress” about a month ago in Connecticut, and I had never attended one before. It was something about being around all those service members and their families.

It reminded me so much of what I would do as a kid. Seeing these teenagers trying on these dresses and feeling so grateful. I wish we had something like this when I was younger because I think it would have made things a lot easier.

Your platform is to care for servicemen coming home after overseas duty, steer them away from committing suicide after their military service. Is that why the USO is so important to you?

It is important, and it’s actually one of the platforms I’ve been promoting in D.C. since I was crowned in December. It is providing the resources when they returned from being overseas to make sure that they get the things they need. Fighting PTSD is to fight those mental battles, those hidden scars that aren’t necessarily obvious because I have lost two soldiers.

One hung himself, and one shot himself with a gun. The soldier who hung himself had two kids and a wife. It goes to show that these soldiers are really battling mentally. There are things we are taught to be strong in the military, we’re taught to not necessarily look over it but fight through it.

But sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need someone to say, “No, let me sit you down, and let’s talk about it, what’s going on, we need to get you help.” Because now I’m responsible for that soldier’s family.

I’m responsible for answering questions on why I wasn’t there as a commander to be able to help him, why I was not able to see those signs. I push soldiers to say something, and I push family members and friends to say something when they feel that something isn’t right with the soldier.

Final question, and please have a little fun with the answer. I have an image of you in military fatigues, up to your neck in mud, with boots on, and here you are in front of me with lipstick, eyeliner, false eyelashes, sparkly gown. Give me the connection.

Aw, man! The military and beauty pageants are definitely the opposite sides of the spectrum. But I will say that because I spend a lot of time in uniform, I think that beauty pageants give me a chance to really be girly for a second, you know?

I think it’s that — I think it’s something that’s inside me, to really wear my heels and get dressed up. Beauty pageants give me an excuse.

Your soldiers would hardly recognize you tonight?

They don’t. A lot of them follow me on Facebook, and they’re seeing all these pictures of me during the competition. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, is that my commander?” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s me!” Everything changes when you come out of uniform.

* * *

Heaven forbid that you wind up in a trauma hospital with a nurse you think should be a model or take orders from an officer you think should be a Hollywood pinup. Think twice about the brains behind the beauty. Having met Deshauna and several of the other bright pageant queens, I can tell you that America is in safe and strong hands.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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