Army Reserve officer Deshauna Barber was crowned Miss USA on Sunday, after she and her fellow contestants answered a series of questions that proved controversial to some viewers on social media.
The 26-year-old Miss District of Columbia wooed the crowd with an inspired answer about women’s role in military combat.
“The Pentagon recently made the decision to open up all combat jobs to women,” judge Joe Zee prompted. “Now, some have questioned whether this has put political correctness over our military’s ability to perform at the highest level. What are your thoughts?”
“As a woman in the United States Army, I think it was an amazing job by our government to allow women to integrate to every branch of the military. We are just as tough as men. 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 in the United States Army.”
Barber graduated from Virginia State University in 2011 and joined the military at age 17, according to the Washington Post. Her father reportedly served in Iraq after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and some of her siblings have also served.
“I consider [military service] to be a family tradition,” Barber reportedly said in a pre-pageant interview. “It’s something that runs through our veins — patriotism and service for this country.”
Sunday night’s question-and-answer segment became increasingly political when first runner-up Miss Hawaii, Chelsea Hardin, was asked if she would vote for presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or former pageant owner and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.
The question caused boos to fill the packed auditorium at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hardin gracefully dodged the question, answering it thusly: “All I have to say, it doesn’t matter what gender. What we need in the United States is someone who represents those of us who feel like we don’t have a voice. Those of us who want our voices heard. We need a president who will push for what is right and who will push for what America really needs. Thank you.”
Using the hashtags #MissUSA and #MissHawaiiUSA, social media users wasted no time to share their displeasure at the question.
— Katie Montou (@KayyyTM) June 6, 2016
— Joey O'Hern (@joeyohern) June 6, 2016
— Brandie Piper (@BrandiePiper) June 6, 2016
— Ashley Alexiss (@AshAlexiss) June 6, 2016
Co-host Terrence Jenkins quickly acknowledged that the question was written by the Miss USA Organization.
The remaining contestants in the top five were asked about voting rights, income inequality and the recent death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
The Miss USA pageant had already been mired in controversy well before the politically tense questions were posed Sunday night.
The Miss Universe organization spent much of 2015 in a legal battle with Donald Trump, who co-owned the pageant along with NBCUniversal. The media and entertainment company cut business ties with Trump after he launched his presidential campaign last summer, and refused to broadcast the Miss USA 2015 show even though it had already planned to show it.
Spanish-language network Univision also walked away from its contractual agreement to air the Miss USA 2015 event.
Trump filed a $500 million lawsuit against Univision, and eventually settled with both companies.
This year’s three-hour pageant was carried by the Fox network.
After winning Sunday’s 2016 Miss USA competition, Barber is now eligible to compete in the Miss Universe contest.
Follow Jerome Hudson on Twitter: @jeromeehudson