Air Force reservist goes officer, beauty queen
Second Lt. Cara Lustig, Commissioned Officer Training kilo flight, sits in her classroom June 21, a week before graduating from Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB, Ala. Lustig, a prior service Reservist, will head to Washington D.C., immediately after graduation to compete in the Miss United States pageant July 2-7. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Loicano)
by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Loicano
Air University Public Affairs
6/27/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- It's not often that the two very different worlds of beauty pageants and military service intersect, but for newly commissioned 2nd Lt. Cara Lustig, they are a perfect fit.
Graduating from commissioned officer training today, Lustig, who also serves as Miss Rhode Island 2013, will immediately head to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Miss United States pageant Tuesday through July 7.
When asked about her role as an Air Force officer and beauty pageant contestant, Lustig admits that while on the surface they seem very different, at the core, they have more similarities than people might think.
"It all comes down to being confident and determined and knowing that you're doing something bigger than yourself," she explained. "The beauty pageant world and Air Force training environment have some parallel qualities - they both require physical preparation, fitness, discipline and even attention to detail."
And both, Lustig added, bring a diverse group of people together for a specific purpose.
"There is diversity in both groups, with people of different backgrounds brought together with the goal of completing a mission," she said.
A prior enlisted medical administrator with the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., Lustig has been driven to excel since entering the service two years ago. During her short Air Force career, Lustig has focused on education, which also serves as her pageant platform. She is currently one class shy of completing her master's degree, put on hold to attend officer training.
With school, her full-time job with the University of Phoenix, Reserve duty and Miss Rhode Island responsibilities, Lustig stays busy.
"I think of my interests as a three-legged stool. I'm always balancing the areas of my life - Air Force duty, personal life and beauty pageant competition and education," she said.
It is this very act of balancing her life that motivates Lustig to have a variety of interests. The message behind her decision to compete in a beauty pageant, while serving her country, is that people today, and in particular women, are not limited to any one avenue or goal in life. They can be multi-faceted - tough and feminine.
Lustig uses her own personal drive and motivation and the discipline she learned in the Air Force to prepare herself for the numerous challenges of officer training school and the rigors of beauty pageant competition world.
"I wanted to be a positive role model, to show girls they have multiple opportunities in life and that they should have the confidence to do more than one thing," she said.
Although she is not using the time before the Miss United States pageant as her fellow competitors most likely are, Lustig says she isn't too worried.
"I believe this experience [COT] gives me a little bit of an edge, and I am proud to serve my country," she said. "I'm definitely competitive and of course I'd love to win, but I just want to get my name out there. Winning isn't the overall goal; the purpose is the positive impact that I would hopefully make."
Once she made the decision to compete in a beauty pageant, Lustig, who has been volunteering in some fashion since she was in the fifth grade, said the Miss United States pageant was a perfect fit.
"I love their focus on community involvement; it's not required but they highly recommend we do some form of community outreach," she explained.
When not in officer training, Lustig generally attends about two-to-three events per month with organizations like Make-A-Wish and Relay for Life and reading to elementary students.
After graduation, Lustig plans to compete in the Miss United States pageant in July, and the Miss Rhode Island USA competition in September. She will also return to the 439th Aerospace Medicine Squadron as a second lieutenant and finish her master's degree. Not one to stay still for long, Lustig also has her eye on a graduate certificate in health care leadership from Cornell and plans to learn German, her family's native language.
Lustig's Officer Training School flight commander, Maj. Elizabeth Topol, said Lustig's naturalness and ability for discipline will help her go a long way - both in the competitive pageant world and in her Air Force career.
"She exemplifies what an Air Force officer should be and the core values," Topol said. "This will help her grow, she wants it, and has a desire and need to be the best she can be. She wants to help others too, and she is definitely one to keep her eye on, both as she progresses in her military career and in life. She's one to watch."