Tuesday, June 7, 2016 | 1:59 a.m.
2016 Miss USA Pageant at T-Mobile Arena
Go, Army! The boots on the ground division of the U.S. military have just discovered their best, non-secret weapon for recruiting warriors thanks to 26-year-old Deshauna Barber, a lieutenant about to become captain as logistics commander for the 988th Quartermaster Detachment Unit in Fort Meade, Md.
Army Reservist Deshauna won the 2016 Miss USA Pageant on Sunday night in the 65th annual competition at our T-Mobile Arena. She was the first-ever Army servicewoman to win. I interviewed her last week when I learned about her incredible story and thought she had everything it takes to win.
“Mission accomplished,” Deshauna told me shortly after 2015 Miss USA Olivia Jordan placed the diamond tiara on her head. “This was an amazing show, and Las Vegas was an amazing host,” said Miss Universe Organization CEO Paula Shugart.
Our thanks to esteemed editor Don Chareunsy for his blog in real time during the pageant, to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his exceptional photo gallery and to videographer Richard Corey for his coverage of the red carpet, onstage victory and Deshauna’s first media meet-up post-pageant.
“I have been in touch with my unit commander. They know I am here. We had a discussion for me to go on inactive reserve if I won. Now that I’ve won, we’re going to have to handle the paperwork so that I can be off active-duty call for the next year or so. But I did sign up for that and am ready to meet my obligations.”
She also told me: “I am still in shock, stunned. Serious shock. This gives me a much wider scale as Miss USA to promote my platform of PTSD core care for veterans. I haven’t heard specific plans on what the presidential candidates will do about our veterans, what they plan on doing about veterans who are suffering from PTSD, and what they plan on doing about the backlog at VA hospitals.
“I would really like to know what they want to do in regard to our military. I have a best friend deployed in Afghanistan right now, and I think that a lot of the topics that the candidates discuss just aren’t as important as veterans’ issues.
“Some of our veterans, they come back from deployment, or they go into combat, and they start dealing with those internal battles that a lot of us don’t see. My main thing is lowering the number of 22 suicides of veterans each and every day. That is my main platform in Washington, D.C., and now it’s wider on a global scale as Miss USA. I tell them that today, tomorrow, to focus on the next day and that your struggles will eventually fade away.”
I asked Deshauna about when she stood there in those final seconds before the official announcement was made that she’d just aced Miss Hawaii Chelsea Hardin from the title if she began to get emotional and if she prayed to hold it together.
She told me: “Miss Hawaii is very beautiful. I think it was a little bit shocking that I was even given the opportunity to stand next to her because she’s an amazing girl. I knew that either one of us would have been an awesome representative of the Miss Universe Organization. I just felt very emotional and honored to be standing in the moment with her.”
My pal Rick Leventhal from Fox News asked how the other two finalists handled their questions. Said Deshauna: “It becomes the responsibility of the titleholder when we compete. We are asked questions about current events, or we’re asked controversial questions, and that’s why we come in prepared with our opinions. The titleholder has an awesome job responding to those difficult questions.”
Deshauna also talked about her inner strength and confidence. “It’s actually engrained from my childhood, in my household. My mother and father both served, and I think that disciplinary environment really made us as confident as possible, our interactions with our parents, and them challenging us as much as possible.
“They really pushed us to have that inner strength and have that confidence. When I decided that I wanted to go into the military, I think that it helped it. It allowed me to be in a very male-dominated service, and it challenged me. I think you have to be confident in the service that I work in. Go, Army!
“My dad was never really a fan of pageants. He’s retired, he was Special Forces, retired as a master sergeant, and me getting glammed up and competing against girls, and sometimes losing, he has a tendency to get a little bit upset, but I think I’ve actually achieved his perception because there’s been so much positivity that’s come out of being Miss District of Columbia USA and competing.
“My mother, on the other hand, has been all for it! I know she is actually home right now having a church watch party. She’s probably freaking out right now. They are kind of two opposite sides of the spectrum. He hates it; she loves it. But they support me. I know he’s smiling from ear to ear. I think he’s satisfied. I must now call home because I haven’t spoken to them or my soldiers since this happened.”
The fact that Deshauna hails from the District of Columbia was not lost on the show’s co-hosts, Julianne Hough and Terrence J. The pageant opened with a video spoof of him getting lessons from Steve Harvey on how not to screw up the winner’s name like Steve did in the December Miss Universe Pageant at Planet Hollywood when he incorrectly named Miss Colombia the winner over Miss Philippines, whom he should have announced.
“Just stay away from anything that sounds like Colombia,” urged Steve. Terrence told me: “He said whatever it is, it’s not Miss Colombia. So, if it says anything involving Colombia on the card, it’s incorrect. Do not read it. No Columbus, Ohio, no D.C. Just abort the mission.
“They redid the cards so that it’s impossible to make a mistake. I didn’t want anything else on the card but the state name. It fell in my lap, not Julianne’s. Every year, they want a black man to take the rap! So either way, I ended up holding the card, getting the card, and if it went badly, it would have been my fault. I better not mess up. Fox is paying me way too much to mess this thing up. I had to deliver.”
Steve had the last laugh via Twitter that he was right all along: “I was just a few months early with my announcement and forgot “District of.”
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.