Introduce yourself!

I’m the newly crowned Ms. Veteran America 2012, and a natural sister! As the first Ms. Veteran America title holder, my role is to advocate for the 55,000 homeless female veterans and their children on behalf of Final Salute Inc., a non profit created to assist with transitional homes for homeless female veterans. Ms. Veteran America showcases the “Woman Beyond the Uniform”, and the creator of Final Salute felt that creating Ms. Veteran America would give women in the military a voice – because we serve too! As a natural woman getting immersed in the world of “beauty queens”, it is interesting to see that there still exists a standard of beauty for women of color to either relax their hair or don weaves in order to fit in. I stopped relaxing my hair in 2010 (for the 3rd time) and learned about my curls really for the first time! I love every coil and kink and curl … and it physically hurts me to know that I used to abuse my hair — indirectly.

What’s your hair story?
I started paying attention to my hair journey in 2008. I’ve been natural and relaxed numerous times. But after years of that cycle, I decided that I really wanted to become intimate with my hair. Now, you have to understand, I was a “Religious Relaxer” – every-35-days! Growing my natural hair as an adult was new to me because each time I was natural, I wore a Caesar. My last relaxer was Oct 2010, and I BC’d March of 2012. The cycle is over!

Share your hair-related experiences in the Armed Forces…
I have been serving my country in the US Air Force and US Air Force Reserves for almost 20 years. And, for the most part, it’s not a huge issue in getting products if stationed stateside. As service members, we learn to adapt to our environment. But, being overseas can be a different story – at least it was for me. Each Base Exchange (our shopping mall) has an “ethnic” hair section, and if my favorite product wasn’t available, when I would go back to the states on leave, I’d stock up. Nowadays, women stationed overseas have the internet, so I think it’s a bit easier, although I’m sure shipping can get expensive. During my deployment in 2003, I packed products in bulk to be sure I didn’t run out. But, after the first SCUD missile attack, I learned in a hurry that hair was the least of my concerns. Being a woman of color and serving your country can be challenging at times. All women have to be sure our hair is within military standards. There are rules we must follow and we adapt to them. Sadly, there still remains unspoken pressure (for some) to relax (mostly from our cohorts), and I don’t think it will ever go away.

Tell me more about this pageant and your rise to the crown!

As I approached 40 I started reflecting on my life and created a “bucket list”. One item on my list was to compete in something on a national level. I’m athletic so my choices were either a triathlon or marathon. I received an email announcing the Inaugural Ms Veteran America (MVA) Competition – Showcasing The Woman beyond the Uniform and I thought ‘why not – as long as there wasn’t a swimsuit category, I’m game! ☺’. MVA and its beneficiary Final Salute’s Inc., (a non –profit started by Jaspen Boothe, a Captain in the US Army National Guard) mission is to assist homeless female veterans with transitional housing, job training, and counseling. To date, there are over 55,000 homeless female Veterans! No Veteran should be homeless!

As Ms. Veteran America, it is my humbling privilege to advocate for the 55,000. I will be co-hosting the 2013 competition next October, and you’ll notice that we refer to it as a competition rather than pageant because it isn’t about beauty – it’s more about the Women Warriors who raised their hands to answer the call of service before self! I am honored to be the first, but all the women who competed this year have made ‘herstory’ in the annals of military history!

Nikki, THANK YOU for allowing me to share this story for all the women who have served this great country! Love your site and we are so very proud of your accomplishments!