Army veteran Brianne Houck of Birdsboro proves that a woman can wear combat boots and a crown after winning the Ms. Pennsylvania 2022 title at the United States of America State Pageant.
“I was literally brought to tears — I was so happy and beyond honored to have this title bestowed upon me!” said Houck, 37. “For me, it was the culmination of months of hard work and preparation combined with the privilege of having the title of United States of America’s Ms. Pennsylvania 2022, especially given that Pennsylvania is my home state!”
“It was a moment I’ll remember the rest of my life!” she added.
Houck’s platform is Operation Helping Our Heroes dedicated to the men and women who have served and are serving our country as part of the military. She attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point right after graduating from Daniel Boone High School in June 2002.
She was on active duty in the Army from July 2002 to August 2005 during which time she received the National Service Medal.
Health concerns discontinued her military service but “I’d do it all over again and would still be serving today if I could be!”
Primarily, Houck wants to build community awareness and raise funds for her newly established nonprofit organization called American Hero Wishes. Created to be similar in concept to the Make a Wish Foundation, the organization is intended to serve veterans who were severely injured while serving.
“As a veteran myself, I feel eternally indebted to everyone who has sacrificed and was willing to sacrifice all for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans every day,” said Houck. “I will never be able to do enough for them, in my mind, for all that they have endured for us; however, I can start by fulfilling all my personal commitments to my title and crown over the next year.”
Her goal is to grant at least 12 wishes over this upcoming year.
“My vision is to start with my nonprofit in Pennsylvania and to expand to nearby regions and eventually the whole country,” she said.
For more about American Hero Wishes, to donate or nominate a hero, contact Houck at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an established 501(c)(3) organization, and the website will be live in the next two to three weeks.
Houck also plans to continue to be a mentor for Veterati, a free mentorship service for veterans transitioning to civilian careers, and to continue to advocate for the organizations she supports, including USO, Wounded Warrior Project, Soldiers’ Angels, and Team Red, White & Blue.
“In general, I want to encourage others to support our active-duty military personnel and veterans and to just give back to our communities in general,” Houck said. “I, too, want to inspire people to step outside of their comfort zones; to grab every opportunity that comes; and to fearlessly maintain everything that makes them individuals.”
“I’m proof that a person can ‘wear more than one hat’ so-to-speak — that you can wear combat boots and a crown and that it’s never too late to set another goal!”
Journey to a state crown
Houck started competing in pageants in 2020.
“Up until 2020, I had never done anything with pageantry in my life. When I was a child, I remember watching the Miss America Pageant and, as a proud American even then, I wanted to be part of that,” she said.
Houck joined the military right after graduating from high school, so she decided to let go any hopes of competing in the Miss America Pageant, or so she thought.
Houck won the title of Ms. Arizona Petite in 2020, having previously resided in Arizona for nine years. In her first-ever national pageant for USA Petite, she placed as first runner-up in the Ms. Division, exceeding her own expectations.
This led her to the United States of America Pageant.
Born and raised in Birdsboro and now once again residing in her hometown, Houck was crowned Ms. Berks County this past summer.
“I was beyond humbled and grateful to be crowned in my second pageant ever!” she said.
“However, I did not get to this point on my own,” Houck added.
Realizing that she wasn’t familiar with how pageants work, Houck started working with a coach right away.
“She has mentored me and really has taught me almost everything I know about competing in pageants — I certainly owe much of my success and sincere gratitude to her for the time she’s invested in me,” she said. “To me, this reaffirms the value of coaches and mentors in so many areas of our lives — certainly in pageantry!”
Houck described the state pageant experience, even in its abbreviated duration, as nothing short of exciting and the definition of women empowering women.
Held on Oct. 24 in Malvern, the state pageant featured divisions of Teen, Miss, Ms. and Mrs., starting with individual interviews with each judge followed by onstage competition that included fitness, patriotic costume, and evening gown. Then, each local titleholder answered a question in front of the judges and the audience. To learn more about the United States of America’s Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, go to https://www.usoamisspennsylvania.com/.
“While this day certainly exerted pressure on us, as we all wanted to perform to our very best abilities in all areas, the support amongst all titleholders throughout the entire day (and even before) was phenomenal!” Houck said.
They were all reassuring one another throughout the day, helping each other with wardrobe changes, practicing their stage routines together and such, she said.
“We all became friends and are part of this perpetual, beautiful sisterhood. Even moving into the future, we are there to cheer one another on and to really be the support for one another,” she said.
“Empowerment and encouragement amongst individuals is something, in my opinion, that we can carry into society as a whole, and the United States of America Pageant System really embodies that!” Houck added.
The Rewards of Pageantry
Houck said she has gained greatly from her pageant experience.
“First, I’ve gained a whole new group of friends and am part of this beautiful sisterhood that is an innate part of pageantry,” she said. “It’s incredible to see so many talented and altruistic women who are always supporting one another.”
Houck also gained even more confidence as to what she has to offer as a state titleholder.
“Some of the best advice I could ever give to the younger generation or even a younger version of myself: Always stay true to yourself. The parts of each of us that are unique are really what make us stand out. Don’t ever lose that!” Houck said. “Every individual has something different to offer the world, and pageantry recognizes that and embraces it.”
She also gained affirmation of the value of pageantry in general.
“Pageantry is an invaluable institution consisting of highly-accomplished, motivated role models who are truly trying to leave the world better than when we entered it; and the world always needs as much good as we can put back into it,” Houck said.
“Finally, I’ve gained humility and perspective as to the enormity of responsibility that comes with being a state titleholder,” she concluded. “I have an obligation to be a role model in the Pennsylvania community and to serve and give back as much I can within a year’s time frame.”
Houck is determined to fulfill her personal commitments while continuing to work, go to school as a doctoral student with a concentration in leadership, prepare for the USOA National Pageant, and kick-start her nonprofit organization.
“Through all of this, I hope to make my home state proud of their USOA Ms. Pennsylvania 2022!”
Follow Brianne Houck on her pageantry journey via social media at https://www.facebook.com/usoamspennsylvania/ and on USOA Miss Pennsylvania – Instagram.
Source: Berkshire mont