Marching onto the runway

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Tyrique Barquet
  • Lemay Center

Caroliena Neuens' journey into pageantry began in a very unexpected way. As a teenage girl more comfortable with art projects and video games, she found herself thrust into the world of glitz and glamour when a teacher recommended her for the National American Miss pageant. Initially, the world of pageantry was as alien to her, but she decided to embrace the challenge.

“I thought to myself, I haven’t done anything like this before and I didn’t really feel like I was qualified,” said Neuens. “But it was a new experience, so I said let’s do it!”

Despite her nerves, Neuens excelled in her first pageant, making it as a state finalist for Colorado.

"As a teenager, doing that first interview was terrifying," she admitted. "I had no idea what to expect. The second time around, it was a bit easier to navigate, but the competition itself was a whole different beast."

Seven years, later now Staff Sgt. Caroliena Neuens found herself back in the pageant scene. This time, she wasn't just competing against other contestants; she was balancing the demanding life of an Air Force non-commissioned officer in charge of cadet actions at Headquarters Reserve Officers’ Training Corps with the rigorous preparation required for a national pageant.

"Being an airman obviously comes first, the mission always comes first," said Neuens. “The big key thing is time management.”

The idea of participating in the pageant had resurfaced during her early years in the Air Force. She felt the weight of representing the Air Force, but she also wanted to prove that she was more than her uniform.

"Being an airman is not solely me. There’re other parts of me besides being an airman," Neuens explained. “I don't want that to be the sole reason I'm going in; I also offer all of these other things.”

Her off-duty hours were a flurry of preparation. She focused on her platform, volunteered extensively and honed her presentation skills.

"A lot of my volunteering involved donations," Neuens said. "I was either donating books or clothes to local libraries or to the Airman’s Attic."

These efforts allowed her to make an impact not only on her military community but also the local community.

But Neuens says that the discipline and organizational skills from her military role were instrumental in juggling these dual responsibilities.

"My military service has made me more confident in my ability to navigate unknown situations," said Neuens. "It also helped me gain patience and meet last-minute deadlines… I navigated those changes easily."

She aimed to demonstrate to her younger self and others that confidence and determination could overcome any barrier.

"I wanted to prove to my 17-year-old self that I had the confidence to do it," said Neuens. “She was too shy, socially awkward and hid in the corner most of the time, but I’m not that person anymore.”

The demanding nature of pageantry, with its public speaking and performance aspects, taught her the importance of self-awareness and personal presentation.

"The thing I probably learned the most is that I am an introvert at heart," Neuens admitted. “Because being up on that stage and talking to people requires a lot out of me.”

Neuens says that the discipline and organizational skills inherent to her job in the military were instrumental in managing her dual responsibilities.

"My military service has undoubtedly influenced my approach to pageantry," said Neuens. "The confidence I gained from leading troops and navigating unpredictable situations translated well to the stage… both require a level of poise under pressure and the ability to adapt quickly to changes."

Although Neuens did not place in the pageant this time around, she earned significant recognition, including the second runner-up in the Top Model Optional Contest and the Spirit Award. These accolades were a testament to her dedication, positivity, and ability to inspire others.

Her participation in the National American Miss pageant underscores the diverse capabilities of military personnel and serves as an inspiration for others to pursue their passions while fulfilling their military duties. While she didn’t place this time around, Neuens says next year will be a different story.