She performs for troops all over the country, stands up for bullied children, and also finds time to compete in beauty pageants.
She is Miss New York—Kaitlin Monte—and I recently caught up with her over the phone after she earned second runner-up at the 2012 Miss America Pageant, Jan. 14 in Las Vegas.
“To make it as far as I did was just a blessing,” said Monte, who demonstrates through her humility and her civic involvement that Miss America isn’t just a beauty contest—it’s a contest of character.
“The literal pageantry of it all becomes so small when you realize what’s really going on there,” she said. “It starts to be so silly what color lip gloss you’re wearing when you’d rather talk to the girl next to you about how she’s impacting her community. That’s what Miss America is all about.”
For the past three years, Monte has provided joy and entertainment to troops and veterans across the country as a member of the USO Liberty Bells, a throwback performance group that sings and dances to classic hits like the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” as well as other contemporary music of today for active duty military.
Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Monte joined the New York-based troupe after graduating from college to spread the message about an organization that she felt her generation didn’t know enough about.
“There was a time when troop support wasn’t needed as much,” said Monte. “But today it’s needed more than ever and it’s great to be a young person who can explain to people what [the USO] is because it’s such a powerful resource.”
She’s found inspiration from meeting and talking to men and women who’ve served and sacrificed.
“There’s one gentleman we met at a show who had suffered some pretty severe burning,” Monte recalled. “Despite his injuries being very significant visually, you hardly noticed because he was by far one of the most jovial people we had ever interacted with.”
“That’s where veterans become so impressive,” she added. “Despite major sacrifices and losses, their spirit remains so alive and you can take so much away from that. Our problems as civilians can start to look so trivial when you look at what they’ve gone through.”
Monte’s experiences with the USO were so impactful she was even inspired to start her own non-profit called Project Empower, aimed at broadening the world view of school-age children who are being bullied and cyber-bullied.
“The USO is really where I learned how powerful the individual could be,” she said. “It’s one of the most effective community organizations out there because of [its volunteer base] … and many people don’t realize how powerful that can be.”
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life,” she added, “but I never took for granted the fact that those who serve are the reason why I have those opportunities and I appreciate it very much. The USO is such an iconic name and has so consistently over the past 70 years been supporting the military. It has been so great to be a part of such a rich and historic American organization and I’m proud to help spread its message.” - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer
More from the USO
May 15, 2017
USO Operation Birthday Cake Brings the Party to Service Members in Japan
When Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey Lee received an urgent call to head to his work station one morning, he thought there was something seriously wrong, but there was no emergency. Instead, he walked into his own surprise birthday celebration, courtesy of his wife, USO Yokosuka and the Operation Birthday Cake Program.
May 13, 2017
'I'll Never Forget It": Why a USO Fourth of July T-shirt Can Mean So Much
Years ago, I wore my USO T-shirt to a Houston Astros game. Someone stopped me and said, “Thank you, sir.” I turned to see a man holding his young son by the hand. He said he was active duty, leaving soon for Afghanistan.
May 10, 2017
#Flex4Forces and Show Your Strength on Social Media
The USO invites you to get involved in our exciting new digital campaign, #Flex4Forces! The campaign calls on Americans to show their strength as a Force Behind the Forces by striking a biceps flex in support of our nation’s military and sharing it on social media.