TEANECK, N.J. - To walk a mile in the shoes of Spc. Francesca Vollaro requires a wardrobe change. Swapping out her combat boots for a pair of pageant heels, Vollaro took the title of first runner-up at the Miss American Coed Pageant on Nov. 25 in Orlando, Fla.
Vollaro, a military police officer with the Army National Guard’s 508th Military Police Company, earned her spot at the national competition after being named Miss New Jersey Coed on July 21, 2013 - three weeks after retuning home from a deployment to Afghanistan.
While overseas, Vollaro, 21, planned for her first pageant as motivation during the nine-month deployment.
With limited opportunities to prepare for the pageant, Vollaro purchased her formal dress online and took the stage during the interview segment of the competition wearing a handmade suit from Afghanistan.
“In my interview, I share that I am in the National Guard, and I say it with pride,” Vollaro said.
While other contestants trained with coaches and honed their presentation and communication skills, Vollaro relied on her military training and support from her battle buddies.
“My experience in the National Guard boosts my confidence,” said Vollaro, who is majoring in justice studies at Montclair State University.
Transitioning from her active duty role to a poised pageant contestant, Vollaro has the support of her MP unit. In a live video stream, Vollaro’s fellow soldiers were able to watch as she took her most current title.
“I do it to show girls that you can do anything,” Vollaro said.
Vollaro said she opted to join the National Guard as a way to follow in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, who served in World War II.
She hopes to make a career in the National Guard and would not hesitate to serve another tour of duty in Afghanistan.
She says that one of the most satisfying opportunities during her deployment to Afghanistan was the opportunity to work with children in orphanages.
According to the Miss American Coed Pageant website, the pageant has awarded more than $12 million in scholarships and prizes since its inception in 1983. The purpose of the pageant is to help develop tomorrow's leaders. As the contestants go through the competition process, they gain poise and self-confidence and hone their communication skills.
Vollaro will use her time in the spotlight to solicit support for those serving in the armed forces.
"I want the community to remember them and to support them," Vollaro said.