Lindsay Gutierrez: From Combat Boots to Rhinestone Crown (Ms. Veteran America 2017)

I’ve traded my combat boots for heels and Security Forces beret for a rhinestone crown, but don’t let the exterior fool you. Ms. Veteran America (MVA) isn’t a pageant – it’s a competition created by a formerly homeless woman veteran to be an ambassador for Final Salute Inc., a non-profit helping homeless women veterans regain their independence. MVA highlights the woman beyond the uniform as a representative of all branches of service and is trailblazing in their advocacy efforts for women veterans.

My journey into this new role hasn’t come easy, but it has been worth the road less traveled. I proudly served in the Air Force for six years, receiving an honorable discharge in September 2016. Equipped with experience and education, I felt ready for this new phase of life. Only problem? I had no idea how difficult the transition from active duty to civilian life would be.

Despite all the plans I had created to sustain myself as a civilian, there’s nothing that truly prepares veterans, specifically women vets, for that invisibleness we feel once we leave the military. I felt I wasn’t recognizable as a veteran because I didn’t fit the stereotype of what a veteran “looked like.” The months after becoming a civilian were filled with depression, loneliness, and a yearning that there was something more I could be doing with my life. When I came across the MVA competition and its mission, I knew this was the missing piece I had been searching for. Although I was no longer wearing my military uniform, MVA was a new way for me to continue serving others. Through my own personal struggles of transitioning from active duty to civilian, I was able to educate fellow Georgians about female veteran homelessness and advocate for the nation’s quickest growing homeless population.

During my reign, I’ve realized all the seasons of hopelessness I was feeling were setting me up for this moment. While there are days I struggle with coping as a civilian, I know I’m not alone. I have a sisterhood of MVA women, along with my family and friends, supporting me along the way. MVA is more than a competition: It’s an unshakable bond of love and empowerment that has given me a new purpose and personal worth far greater than I ever could’ve imagined. Just as MVA has taught me, you CAN make a difference – all you must do is take a leap of faith!

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