Jill Stevens can look like a tough and gritty soldier one day and a beauty queen the next.
As a sergeant in the Utah National Guard, she's a combat medic who spent a year in Afghanistan patching up injured troops back in 2004 and 2005.
This past Friday, the 24-year-old self-described "electric" person, nicknamed "Smiles," was crowned Miss Utah.
"It's still settling in," Stevens said on the phone Monday.
Last year Stevens competed as Miss Southern Utah University in the Miss Utah Scholarship Pageant, finishing as second runner-up. In May she graduated from SUU with a degree in nursing. Last February the Kaysville resident was crowned Miss Davis County before being named Miss Utah last week.
Stevens said she plans to use the $10,000 scholarship prize for her master's degree toward a career as a nurse practitioner in the emergency medicine field.
The new title was yet another surprise coming from the middle child of five siblings who have grown up in a musical family, with a mother who is a member of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
When Stevens joined the Guard just before graduating from Davis High School in 2001, her family was surprised then. Stevens said joining the military was reflective of who she was full of energy, someone with a sense of adventure. Her family eventually understood.
"I love challenges," she said. "I love trying new things."
One challenge last week was having to don a swimsuit for the pageant when her normal uniform is camouflage fatigues.
"Everyone knows that in a pageant that's part of it," she said, with one caveat: "I think there's better ways to showcase fitness."
A nine-time marathon finisher, Stevens said she'd rather compete in a triathlon as part of the fitness portion of the pageant. The swimsuit competition reminded her how she's more muscular than skinny as a result of lugging around rucksacks that weigh as much as 70 pounds while training with the Guard.
Oh, and being attractive in the Army has meant Stevens gets attention from some of the male soldiers. She used the words "hit on."
"It teaches you to stand your ground," Stevens said. "You have to be blunt with soldiers."
With her chutzpah and others looking out for her, Stevens said she has had "no troubles."
Her plan now is to use the Miss Utah title to spread the word about emergency preparedness, which was her platform for the competition. She'll be visiting high schools throughout Utah to make sure they know how to respond during a disaster.
It's unknown at this point whether Stevens will be deployed again or how her Guard duties will mix with her responsibilities and appearances around the state as Miss Utah. She has about 18 months left on an eight-year contract with the Guard.
Utah Guard spokesman Maj. Hank McIntire said having a Miss America 2008 contestant among the ranks here is a positive thing.
"It draws attention to the Guard in a unique way," McIntire said. "You don't typically see a beauty queen in combat boots."
Stevens' title, he said, adds a new dimension to the kinds of things a Guard member can accomplish. He said the new Miss Utah will serve as a role model for young women who might not otherwise consider joining the Guard."She has a legitimate shot at winning Miss America," McIntire said. "Just because of the kind of person she is."
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