Jasmine Alexander on Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs; as Miss Black USA
Courtesy of Jasmine Alexander; courtesy of Miss Black USA

Veterans Day is a time to remember and thank not just those who have retired from the military but also those still in uniform in service to the country. That is why on this Veterans Day, the reigning Miss Black USA 2014 will be at a Veterans Hospital in Arizona, handing out thank-you cards.

But 26-year-old Jasmine Mone’ Alexander is not just a black woman with a crown; she is also a first lieutenant in the Air Force, working as an intelligence officer stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

Alexander joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, program in 2007 as a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and says the choice to commit was not made lightly. She describes herself as a “military brat,” having grown up with a father in the Air Force; her mother was a teacher. By the time she and her older sister got to high school in Delaware, the family had lived in lived in three different countries and eight different cities. “I was dead set on doing the exact opposite [of my father]. I was like, I don’t want to go into the military. I want a civilian life,” Alexander told The Root.

That all changed when she was in college. “My dad was an ROTC instructor, and he told me it was a good opportunity to get scholarship money and really open your eyes to new things,” said Alexander. So she signed up, but, she admits, “I honestly did not know what I was getting myself into.”

She says that the military is not “one size fits all.” “What I like to tell people is, you have to figure things out for yourself, and I can say that the military is not for everyone. Any recruiter will tell you that, because it is a lifestyle change, it is a mindset change, and not everybody is willing to fit that mold,” said Alexander.

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She does say that Air Force life has given her opportunities she had never imagined. She was part of Operation Enduring Freedom and deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, where she supported troops in her role as an intelligence officer. Although she could not go into specifics because of the nature of the work, she does say that she was not on the front lines. Alexander also points to education as another opportunity the military provided.

"What I love about the Air Force is that they’re big on education, and if you’re in a particular situation where you may not be able to afford to go to school or you may not be able to do the things you really want to, then use the military, whatever branch it may be, to get you to that next step,” said Alexander, who earned her master’s degree through the ROTC program.

But being a female in the military does not come without certain pressures. One of the biggest challenges facing women in the armed forces has been sexual assault, and that is something Alexander takes very seriously. According to the most recently available Department of Defense statistics, there were 5,061 reports of sexual assault in the military during the 2013 fiscal year. That is an increase of 50 percent over 2012 numbers.

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The military says that it is instituting a number of programs to bring those numbers down and prevent sexual assault. Alexander says, “It’s going to take time to really bring the issue to light and really make a change, but it has to happen.” As for her own concerns, she says she works in a unit where they have meetings to discuss the issue of sexual assault. “I’m not concerned for my safety at all when it comes to that,” says Alexander.

Long before Alexander joined the military, she was drawn to the pageant life. She competed in her first pageant in eighth grade and knew that it was something she wanted to pursue. She won her first title as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she was Miss Black Student Union.

She was also Miss Black Colorado before becoming Miss Black USA. For the talent portion of that competition, she performed an original spoken-word piece called “I Thought I Was Free.” “I didn’t necessarily want the fact that I was in the military to stop me from continuing to grow in that particular area of my life. So I kind of just used it as another way to brand myself and to mature and grow into the woman that I am today,” said Alexander.

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Alexander is now weighing her options regarding her next step and says she does not know how long she will stay active in the military. She says her plans include motivational speaking and spearheading her own nonprofit. But one thing she is sure of is that on this Veterans Day, she wants people to take the time to stop and thank both active and retired military. She reminds us by echoing the words that so many others have said before her: “Remember, freedom isn’t really free.”