At just 22 years old, Air Force 2nd Lt. Madison Marsh made military history on Jan. 14 as the first active-duty service member to be crowned Miss America.

An Air Force Academy alumna who has been piloting since she was a teenager, Marsh entered the pageant scene for the first time while in college. She was crowned Miss Colorado before moving on to the Miss America competition.

“As a freshman at the Academy, you might have a hard time finding your identity in a very new and challenging environment,” Marsh said in an Air Force release. “My cousin had competed in pageants for a long time, and one of the big things about it that I love is the community service aspect and the focus on public speaking.”

Instead of twirling a baton or belting out arias on stage throughout her pageant career, Marsh focused on storytelling.

“I’m not conventionally talented — I cannot sing or dance,” she said. “I gave a monologue about my very first solo flight at the age of 16 and how that shaped some of the fundamental leadership characteristics that I got to carry through into USAFA and then into my adult professional life.”

Although she dreamed to one day become an astronaut — and graduated from the academy with a degree in physics and a focus on astronomy — Marsh is now charting a course for a career in public service.

“Marsh is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School through the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Civilian Institution Program, which falls under Air University,” an Air Force spokesperson told Military Times.

Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.

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