Beauty queen Jessica Gaulke has traded her tiara for combat attire as she heads off to Iraq.
Just four months ago Gaulke, a college senior, was named Minneapolis' Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes. She expected to spend the next year making public appearances as a goodwill ambassador; her duties included a trip to Japan.
She's now making a different sort of trip as a member of the Minnesota National Guard. Her unit of 300 has been told to get ready for six months of training in Texas and then deployment to Iraq.
"We were told we would be in Iraq for one year but that could change," Gaulke said.
As with so many other soldiers, Gaulke's future is now radically altered. She said her life has been "flipped upside down," but she is staying positive.
She must postpone her last semester at Augsburg College and leave the pageant world to work as a different kind of role model.
"You can do anything you want to do," she said. "Whether it's on one spectrum of being the queen of the city or in the other of going over and fighting."
Turning in Her Crown
Thursday, Gaulke tearfully told the beauty pageant organizers that she will give up her crown after she represents Minnesota in the Rose Bowl Parade.
Gaulke has also moved up her wedding date to fiancé Jeff Chayer, who will take care of things while she's gone.
"It's going to be difficult … there's no question about that, but, you know it's difficult for everybody that's over there," he said. "We're all going to work together and make our way through it."
Gaulke was inspired to enlist by her father, who was a member of the National Guard for 28 years. She recently viewed photos of herself as an 8-year-old, which confirmed her decision.
"I was dressed in my dad's fatigues for Halloween," Gaulke said. "So I knew at that point when I looked back at that picture that this is something I had always wanted to do."