BATON ROUGE – Light/dark, high/low, up/down – these are all easy to identify opposites, but what about the military and beauty pageants? Most people would see these as opposites as well, but not LSU freshman Wendy Martin.
Martin, a native of Eagle River, Alaska, was crowned the 2014 Miss National Sweetheart in July and began school at LSU this fall as a cadet in the LSU Army ROTC program. Surprisingly, her interest in ROTC developed from her finding a way to get her parents to allow her to participate in pageants.
“My dad promised me a new pageant gown if I went to the junior ROTC camp back home in Alaska, and when I got there I actually had a terrible attitude and didn’t want to participate at all,” Martin said. “Then we got to ride in a Blackhawk and that was a moment that changed my life forever.”
Martin said she wasn’t allowed to participate in pageants before high school but after attending the ROTC camp, she was able to combine her two interests. She even climbed the ranks of her Navel Junior ROTC unit, eventually becoming the commanding officer of the very camp that peaked her military interests in the first place.
In Alaska, Martin was appointed Miss Denali before going on to compete in the Miss National Sweetheart pageant, part of America’s National Teenagers Scholarship Organization, which is a scholarship-based organization founded in 1970. As Miss National Sweetheart, Martin will serve for one year and will receive a scholarship when her reign is complete.
“Seventy percent of our scores include your interview, GPA, community service and onstage interview,” Martin said. “It’s definitely based on leadership qualities.”
Leadership qualities are important for Martin in both the National Sweetheart pageant and as she studies to become a second lieutenant in the U.S. Amy upon graduation in 2017. Her career ambition is to be an active duty UH-60 Blackhawk Pilot.
“I’ve wanted to do that from the moment that bird got in the air (at ROTC camp), and I changed my entire attitude and outlook on life and ended up joining that as my career,” said Martin, who is majoring in human resource education and leadership development.
Family tradition and LSU’s ROTC program led her to bring her crown and scholarship to Baton Rouge.
“It’s kind of required in my family in a sense. If you are a Martin child, you bleed purple and gold,” said Martin, who added that her birth announcements had an LSU cheerleader uniform on them.
Besides her father being from Louisiana and meeting her mother at LSU, Wendy also credits the ROTC program in her decision to attend the university. She earned a four-year scholarship to LSU through Army ROTC, and attributes her skills in the interview portion of the application process to her involvement in pageants.
“It’s a great way to get your school paid for, if that’s something that you’re interested in or need,” she said. “Also, it’s a great program for building leadership skills. Really any civilian job that you’re going to have, you can usually find a counterpart in the military.”
Martin feels that LSU has many opportunities for students of any background, military affiliated or not.
“There are so many ways to get involved that there’s really something for everyone here,” Wendy said. “No one’s going to feel left out if they come to LSU.”
In addition to helping her get scholarships to her dream school, Martin’s unique background has garnered national attention when CNN HLN’s “Morning Express with Robin Meade” visited Baton Rouge for the LSU/Auburn football game. Martin was one of the people Meade interviewed live on the show (http://www.hlntv.com/video/2013/09/21/lsu-rotc-beauty-pageant-robin-meade-hln-rivalry-express).
“I wasn’t nervous until I was actually in front of the camera and then my nerves kicked in,” Martin said. “It was the coolest experience ever.”