COLORADO, USA — When a childhood dream meets the real world, all kinds of things can become reality – even a princess who wears combat boots.
As a little girl, Maura Spence Carroll dreamed of stepping on stage to win a pageant and wear a crown. And when she turned 18, she took a step to fulfill a different childhood dream: She become a soldier serving her country when she joined the 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Carson as Spc. Spence Carroll.
That dream also was a way for her to honor her grandfather.
"My grandfather was in the Air Force, and we were very close, and I lived with my grandparents for a time when I was in high school and a little bit in middle school," Spence Carroll said. "When he passed away in 2016, it obviously deeply affected me, but I knew I wanted to carry out his legacy in some way."
She's one soldier in a 700-member battalion with more than half of her battalion deploying, while the rest continue their mission on home soil. That means physical training that begins at 6:30 a.m. with running and weights.
"My No. 1 goal going into basic was just to push myself as hard as I could," she said. "I wish I had done more pushups getting ready for basic, but overall, I was shocked how well I did – how far I came, not just as a soldier, but as a human being. As a person, learning more about myself."
Then she was off to tackle a childhood dream of becoming a princess: a soldier in search of crown and a dream the rest of her unit new nothing about, until ...
"When I was getting ready for Miss Colorado, I will admit because the guy who lives next to me in the barracks didn’t know I was getting ready," she said. "I started singing every day because that’s my talent, and he texted me one day saying, 'Is that you singing?' I was like, 'Yeah dude, what’s up?' And he was like, 'You sound like a Disney princess.' He was so confused."
Crowned as Miss Colorado 2021 in June, she's changing out of fatigues and into evening gowns to go after the title of Miss America. In December, she joins a couple of other military contestants but will be the only active-duty contestant on the stage.
“I understand I’m in a unique position, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t do it. It’s possible. It takes support. It takes a lot of hard work,” she said. "The Army is evolving, and it’s not full of the cookie-cutter image we have of a soldier. It’s full of people like me. Anyone can be a soldier. Anyone can be a title holder in the Miss America organization. All it takes is that support and that hard work and never letting go of what you want."
Spencer Carroll sees the Miss America title as a way to talk about mental-health care for veterans – especially suicide prevention. She was diagnosed with ADHD while serving in the Army and sees her therapist two times a month.
She uses that time to talk about grief. Her little sister, Katie, died when she was 5 years old in a drowning accident. She believes all veterans should be encouraged to seek mental-health care.
"It's not weak to receive that care," she said. "It's actually very strong because you're admitting that there's a way to improve."
She now boasts two titles close to her heart – Spc. Spence Carroll and Miss Colorado – and she's dreaming of capturing another title: Miss America.
"It’s surreal because you think it’s something that happens to other people," Spence Carroll said. "And then one day, you wake up and your dream came true."
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