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Teresa Drag vies for 'Ms Veteran America'
PARIS — Who wears camouflage, glitter and heels?
Ms Veteran America – "The Woman Beyond the Uniform" – does.
That's the title former Paris resident and active duty Marine Teresa Drag is hoping to take, during the inaugural 2012 Ms Veteran America Pageant on October 7 in Arlington, VA – Drag says she can't wait to be a part of it (even though she admits she's a little nervous).
"I've never been in any pageants before," said Drag, who learned in early July she was chosen as one of 40 contestants to compete for the crown.
On July 9, Drag competed in the area regionals in Washington, D.C., where she was asked myriad questions and performed a Shorin-Ryu Kata called Passai Dai – in other words, she showed off her karate moves.
Regionals also took place in Texas and California. She said that Final Salute, Inc., the organization sponsoring the event, even allowed some participants to send in videos showcasing their talents and do phone interviews in order to qualify.
Drag said that she only knew about the regional pageant a week-and-a-half before she participated. "During that time ... I was out in California, and I came back the morning of [the pageant]," said Drag.
But in order to make the final competition, a contestant must meet certain criteria, said Drag.
"You have to either be active duty or a veteran – in good standing – and if you're still active duty, you have to get permission from your commanding officer," she said.
In addition, contestants must be of good health and moral character and be actively involved in their community – by volunteering or taking part in charitable initiatives.
Not to mention they have to have some sort of talent.
"For mine, I did a karate kata," said Drag. "I started studying karate when I was stationed in Okinawa [Japan], and I've kept up with it."
She figured since she had been practicing the kata, she had perfected it enough to perform it on stage.
A "kata" is a Japanese word that describes a choreographed pattern of movements either solo or in pairs – particularly in martial arts.
"You have a certain move or moves and you learn them in a particular order," said Drag. "You don't necessarily do it with anybody else – you can do it by yourself."
And that's exactly what Drag did. "They [the judges] really seemed to like it," she said. For the finals in D.C., she will perform that same talent, as well as compete in a ballgown portion and be tested in military history, she said.
She will also be judged on grace, poise, confidence and personality. According to Drag, the purpose of the pageant is to highlight female U.S. military veterans from all branches of service.
"Most of the time when we're active duty ... we get to play tom boy. We get all dirty and in our uniforms and it kind of makes everyone look the same," said Drag, "so this is an opportunity to highlight individuality – and really dress up."
"I'm used to being around all guys," Drag commented, "so it's pretty cool to be in a pageant – because it's all girls. I don't have many opportunities to wear a dress, so this should be interesting."
Drag, who currently ranks as Major, has been a Marine for 17 years. She said she plans to stay active for at least another three years.
Her military career has taken her all over the world – she has been stationed in Japan, California, Arizona and Virginia, and was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq following the September 11 attacks.
She has even traveled to Australia and East Timor as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Drag currently works for Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity (MCOTEA) – an organization that provides operational testing and evaluation for the Marine Corps and conducts additional testing and evaluation as required to support the Marine Corps' mission to man, train, equip and sustain a force in readiness.
"[We] get Marines from all different MOS' (Military Operations Specialties) and we set up to test all of the equipment and software ... in a structured environment to make sure that it [the equipment] is not only safe, but that it actually does what it's supposed to do," Drag explained.
What first motivated Drag to join was hearing war stories from her stepfather who was in the Army. Several of her cousins were also in all branches of the service, she said.
But Drag didn't join the Marines until a few years after college. She graduated from American University in D.C. with a bachelors degree in political science and worked in graphic design and retail before deciding to enlist.
While at AU, she also met many friends who were in the military.
"After talking with people who were in the military, it seemed like something I'd be good at," said Drag.
She also received her master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Navy War College in Newport, RI.
More important than the ballgowns and talents, the Ms Veteran America pageant is a way to raise awareness of female homeless veterans.
Pageant founder and beneficiary Final Salute is an organization working to alleviate and eliminate homelessness among female veterans, said Drag.
According to the pageant website, www.msveteranamerica.org, all proceeds from the event will aid in continuing to provide homes for homeless female veterans and their children.
Drag said that while there are several programs across the country for homeless veterans, there are none specific to females. "There are gaps when it comes specifically to females," she said.
"There were several studies done by the VA (Veterans Affairs) and HUD (Housing and Urban Development) ... and a lot of places have shelters and safe housing set up, but they are either only for guys – or while they will accept girls, they aren't really set up to have guys and girls together," she explained.
She is currently trying to raise awareness through her Facebook page which she made specifically for the cause. It's entitled "Teresa Drag for Ms Veteran America."
Whoever wins the crown, she said, will attend different events serving as an advocate for Final Salute. The winner will also be required to provide 100 hours of community service, during her 12 months as title holder.
People can donate money toward Final Salute through www.crowdrise.com/mvapteresad or through www.finalsaluteinc.org. Donations can also be mailed to Final Salute, Inc. P.O. Box 156 Haymarket VA 20168.
The Ms Veteran America Pageant will take place Sunday, October 7 from 5-9 p.m. at The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City in Arlington, VA.