When Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber was crowned Miss USA 2016, many credited her win to her bold response during the Q&A portion of the competition. As a soldier actively serving in the United States Army Reserve, the judges asked her opinion regarding the Pentagon’s decision to open up all combat roles to women. “Some have questioned whether this has put political correctness over our military’s ability to perform at the highest level. What are your thoughts?” the judge asked.
“As a woman in the United States Army, I think it was an amazing job by our government to allow women to integrate into every branch of the military,” Barber answered. “We are just as tough as men.” She went on to say, “As a commander of my unit, I am powerful. I am dedicated. And it is important that we recognize that gender does not limit us.”
Barber is the Logistics Commander for the 988th Quartermaster Detachment Unit at Fort Meade, MD, a job she was inspired to pursue by her father. “Although he had never been in the Army Reserves, my dad was on active duty his entire military career. He truly impressed me by how he adapted to the civilian world after he retired.”
The military is the family business—her mother and siblings also serve. “My parents taught me to be happy and proud serving our country without the expectation of getting anything in return,” she said. “I still continue to have this mindset today.”
After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in business management from Virginia State University, and a Master’s of Science in computer information systems from the University of Maryland, Barber became an information technology analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce. While she clearly had the academic chops, working in a male-dominated field has not always been easy. “It has made me work even harder. Breaking those stereotypes is very important to me,” she said. “I have the education and experience to navigate the positions I have worked. I stayed driven and confident, which has helped me stand out working in IT.
“I like to focus on the fact that I am capable of anything,” she said. “I like to think about my past struggles, and I become stronger each day. I have jumped many hurdles in my life, and if I can make it through that then I can make it through anything.”
At 26, this fierce, strong beauty is touring the country raising awareness for an often under recognized issue: soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses common when faced with the trauma of combat.
“Many soldiers don’t understand what they are experiencing and choose to silently fight this mental battle on their own,” Barber said. “I believe the best thing for [loved ones] to do is pay attention to their close family and friends who have returned from deployment.”
“If they are acting differently, seem like they are depressed or having mood swings, then you need to contact their chain of command,” she urged. “If you speak to their unit and let them know what is happening, then someone can monitor and possibly recommend the soldier for further evaluation.”
According to a July 7, 2016 article in Military Times, on average, 20 American soldiers commit suicide each day. “In 2014, the latest year available, more than 7,400 veterans took their own lives, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in America, [yet] veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U.S. population.”