Second Lt. Madison Marsh won Miss America 2024, and for the first time, an active duty military service member won the title. And with it came a windfall of national news, not only highlighting Miss America but also the U.S. Air Force. Not only is Madison the first person to win on active duty, she is also the first person to compete on active duty.

As new generations join the military, they have started asking questions to see if they can do more than serve in the military. They’re opting to let the military be a stepping stone to other pursuits without waiting until their service commitment is complete. Instead, they are chasing their dreams while serving. As the military as a whole is facing a recruiting crisis, seeing an active duty Air Force officer win the title of Miss America is a huge win – not only the Air Force and the Air Force Academy but also all military branches.

A Passion for More Than Just the Military

With the advent of the internet, the world has changed for what is possible for service members. Today, service members have the possibility of not only serving but also following their passion. It could be starting a small business, being a member of an Olympic team, being an NFL cheerleader, or whatever your dream is. And military leaders should capture this momentum and run with it.

The military is no longer a place where you can only do one thing. Of course, the mission will always come first, but now people can follow a passion while serving. And while Madison is getting a well-deserved spotlight, there are plenty of other stories that are not making national headlines showing this change is happening across the military.

1. USA Bobsled Team Member

Riley Tejcek was able to compete to be part of the USA Bobsled team and when selected has been able to participate at competitions around the world representing not only the U.S. but also the Marine Corps where she currently serves on active duty. It was through the flexibility of her leadership and the opportunity to work remotely that she was able to do both. But it was also the willingness to try and ask.

2. NFL Cheerleader

Haley McClain Hill was able to be a cheerleader for both the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers while serving on active duty. She was looking for community and found the opportunity to try out for the Atlanta Falcons cheer squad. She looked at the hours and knew that she could make it work while also meeting the commitments required of the Air Force. When she moved to Beale Air Force Base, she tried out for the 49ers cheer squad and made it. Because many of the cheerleaders worked, the practices were outside of the regular duty day and that made it possible for her to do something she loved while also serving in the Air Force. Today, she is currently the owner of Torch Warrior Wear, creating bodysuits for women warriors.

National Spotlight on Service Members

And while I don’t think that having an active duty member win Miss America will solve the recruitment challenges the military is facing, I see it as a shining example of where the military said yes not only for the member’s benefit but for their as well. That is great for the military and the future of its members.

They said yes to allow Madison begin competing as a freshman at the Air Force Academy. The military continued to support her as she shifted from cadet to active duty officer. And now they are openly supporting and promoting her win across social media. And she is giving the Air Force great public relations, as well. She recently told the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, “I don’t think I ever would have gotten into Harvard if I wouldn’t have gone to the Air Force Academy. I don’t think I would have ever have become Miss Colorado without the Air Force Academy because they have trained me and honed my leadership.”

This is just the beginning of Madison using her platform to share her story of service to people who may not have connected with the military before. The ripple effects may be small waves, but they can have a big impact. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of seeing service members in the national spotlight doing what they love and working to make an impact not just in the military but in the world too.

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Amanda is a military spouse and veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer including a deployment to Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career. She published her first book in 2019 titled Women of the Military, sharing the stories of 28 military women. In 2019 she also launched her podcast also titled Women of the Military. In 2020, she was published as a collaborative author in Brave Women Strong Faith. And in 2021, she launched a YouTube channel to help young women answer their questions about military life, Girl’s Guide to the Military. You can learn more about Amanda at her blog Airman to Mom.