One of the last things Marion Hayes did was sign up her 13-year-old daughter Tiye Young for the middle school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
The program would give Young -- who described herself as a nerd who played violin -- a place to fit in with other students like her.
Hayes was eager to watch her daughter grow and mature. But just before Young started the program, Hayes died from congestive heart failure.
That's when Young's new family -- the U.S. Army -- scooped her up, held her together and pushed her to keep going.
Her JROTC instructor, 1st Sgt. Marcia Jeter, took on new roles to check homework, help her practice Spanish and dish out motherly advice to the budding teen.
"She became my fairy godmother," Young said. "She was the most positive influence in my life."
It left such an impression on Young that she knew she wanted to pursue a career in the Army. About a decade later, Jeter pinned Young as a captain for the 82nd Airborne Division.
"It made me feel like I could be myself, and that my life had a sense of purpose," Young said of her time with the JROTC.
Now, Young wants to inspire and help other women through her competition in the Miss Veteran America contest.
Young, 26, is one of 25 finalists to become Miss Veteran America, a role that will take her across the country to serve communities and raise awareness for female veteran homelessness.
Contestants are scored in four areas: interview, talent, advocacy and military history. Judges are looking for grace, poise, confidence and personality.
There are no age, height and weight requirements in this contest.
The winner, who will receive a $15,000 prize, will be required to perform at least 100 hours of community service during her 12-month reign.
The national competition will take place in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 9.
Young, who grew up in Charlotte, studied Spanish and International Global Studies at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where she was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Her first assignment, as a chemical officer, sent her to Germany.
In 2013, her company was deployed to Turkey to help the country protect itself from Syrian missiles. While deployed, she was the executive officer for the headquarters battalion, responsible for soldiers' training and readiness.
She understood the constant threat of Syrian missiles and decided to recycle old Air Force de-contamination systems for Army use while in Turkey. Young said she worked with a sergeant to develop a procedures for a soldier to move through a tent to be cleansed from chemicals or biological contaminants in less than 10 minutes.
After that assignment, Young said she requested an assignment with the storied 82nd Airborne Division. She's been a human resources officer for the division's Special Troops Battalion at Fort Bragg since November 2015.
Young is discharging from active duty. She decided to switch to National Guard so she can study to apply for medical school with hopes of working with veterans.
She plans to work in emergency medicine for a Veterans Affairs hospital. She can relate to young soldiers who complain about the pounding their knees take from long ruck marches, she said.
She learned about the Miss Veteran America contest from a sorority sister.
Young said she didn't know anything about the competition, but decided she wanted to be part of it when she learned part of the mission is to assist homeless female veterans.
"It's not a beauty pageant," Young said. "It's to be an advocate for female veterans."
Part of her competition is fundraising. The money will go to Final Salute Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides transitional housing for homeless female veterans.
Through the contest, Young said she's learned how veterans can fall into homeless and the challenges they face attempting to climb out of it. She said Fayetteville offers numerous resources, but veterans who live in communities that don't have a large military presence do not have the same assistance.
"I expect there to be things readily accessible," Young said. "We need to raise awareness about homeless veterans across the country. I want to be able to help people out and know they have somewhere to go if they fall on hard times. When you leave the military, how are we leaving them behind?"
Young said she's dedicated to working with veterans.
Since she's lived in Fayetteville, Young has distributed groceries to needy veterans and volunteered through the Sandhills Worship Center Church of God and Military Ministry Center.
"Even if I don't win, this is what I want to do," Young said. "I want to be part of the solution."
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3528. ___
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