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See How Madison Marsh Balances Her Duties as a U.S. Air Force Officer and Miss America "I serve as 2nd Lt. Marsh, and I serve as Miss America simultaneously."

By Lauren Frias

Key Takeaways

  • Second Lt. Madison Marsh juggles duties as an active-duty US Air Force officer and Miss America.
  • In January, the 22-year-old became the first active-duty service member to be crowned Miss America.
  • She is now pursuing her master's degree at Harvard and assisting in pancreatic cancer research.
U.S. Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via Business Insider
Madison Marsh, wearing her uniform as an Air Force second lieutenant, poses with her Miss America crown.

Madison Marsh has had a whirlwind few months balancing her duties as a US Air Force officer and Miss America.

In January, the 22-year-old Arkansas native became the first active-duty US Air Force officer to compete in — and win — the national pageant competition.

Fort Smith homecoming

Second Lieutenant Madison Marsh wears her military uniform while holding her Miss America sash.

US Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Madison Marsh wears her military uniform while holding her Miss America sash. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

Marsh returned to her hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas, over the weekend, welcomed with a homecoming parade. She also visited local schools — including her old middle and high school — to talk about her journey to the Miss America stage from those very halls.

"I mean, I've been saying all day that winning Miss America has never been about me," Marsh said, according to local news station KHBS. "It's been about the people that are in my community, who have backed me and the people that we can impact."

"And so, if I can hopefully open up the mind of another young woman or another young man to chase their dreams, to do something different, then it's a job well [done]," she continued. "And I'm so extremely lucky to have the position that I have."

Air Force officer, pageant winner, and now Harvard student

Madison Marsh sets off the wall of fire during an airshow

Madison Marsh sets off the wall of fire during the airshow at the SUN 'n FUN Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

Over the span of a year, Marsh graduated from the US Air Force Academy with a degree in physics, was crowned Miss Colorado and later Miss America, and earned a full-ride scholarship to Harvard University.

Marsh earned her civilian pilot's license at 16, which inspired her to apply to USAFA. After she received her commission as a second lieutenant, she was selected for the flight school pipeline to become a military pilot.

However, Marsh decided to defer flight school last September to pursue a master's degree in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Advocate for pancreatic cancer research

Madison Marsh chats with students at the FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston, Texas.

Madison Marsh chats with students at the FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston, Texas. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

She also works as a graduate intern at Harvard Medical School, working with researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on the early detection of pancreatic cancer using artificial intelligence.

Her mother died from pancreatic cancer in 2018, just nine months after her diagnosis, which led Marsh to become an advocate for patient care and research through the Whitney Marsh Foundation, the nonprofit her family founded after her mom's death.

"We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were when my mom was diagnosed five years ago, and I think that speaks volumes to the type of strides we're making across the entire pancreatic cancer community," Marsh told Healthline in an interview.

A future in public policy

Second Lt. Madison Marsh salutes in front of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Second Lt. Madison Marsh participates in a wreath-laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. US Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery/Released via BI

Marsh said she hopes to apply insights gained from her Harvard research toward shaping public policy at Capitol Hill that will better support patients.

"Now I understand the science side and [how to ask] medical professionals, 'What do you think needs to be done for patients, and how can we get that done through legislation?'" Marsh said at a United Service Organizations event on Capitol Hill in February. "Because through Harvard, even though I only got to do one semester there, I have learned that it is really easy to make bad policy."

"I think the best way to making good policy is by intimately understanding from the source — with patients — and intimately understanding that scientifically so we're enacting it properly," she added. "Now that I have all of those communities able to give me that knowledge, I'm really excited to get to use that piece to come forward here on the Hill and maybe get some things done."

Balancing active duty with pageant duty

Second Lt. Madison Marsh holds her Miss America crown to students in the crowd

Second Lt. Madison Marsh, crowned Miss America 2024, shares her crown with students at the NASCAR Fun Day Festival in Daytona Beach, Florida. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

Marsh is taking the rest of the year off from her degree and research to focus on her commitments with the Air Force and Miss America. To coincide with her pageant duties, the Air Force kept Marsh on active duty by assigning her to a public affairs and recruiting position.

"The Air Force has been really, really wonderful with me," Marsh said. "Basically, anytime I go and do Miss America events, I'm also giving back to the Air Force to ensure people know about the message of what it means to serve as 2nd Lt. Marsh — the different ways that they can get involved in the military, whether it be in the Air Force or other branches or different jobs."

Never the same day at work

US Air Force 2nd Lt. Madison Marsh poses with airmen

US Air Force 2nd Lt. Madison Marsh poses with airmen at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

The 22-year-old certainly has her hands full as she travels to a new city every few days to make a public appearance or attend events for both the Air Force and Miss America, some of which may vary greatly from each other.

"One event may include putting on my [Air Force] uniform to speak to classrooms of students about what it means to serve our country," she said, according to Dayton Daily News, "and 10 minutes later, I could be changing into something like this," referring her black jumper, high heels, tiara, and Miss America sash, "to attend a speaking event or the Super Bowl."

'Put me in coach!'

Madison Marsh throws a pitch to a Mets baseball player

Miss America Madison Marsh, wearing her Air Force uniform, throws the first pitch during the Mets baseball game at Citi Field in New York. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

But Marsh's professional sports cameos aren't just limited to the NFL. Earlier this week, Marsh threw the first pitch at the Mets baseball game at Citi Field in New York.

"Put me in coach!" Marsh wrote in an Instagram post after the game. "Grateful for the military community and the team at the Mets that made this happen!"

A day in the life of an Air Force cadet

Madison Marsh, wearing her Miss America sash and crown, poses in front of an aircraft at the National Museum of the US Air Force.

Second Lieutenant Madison Marsh, wearing her Miss America sash and crown, poses in front of an aircraft at the National Museum of the US Air Force. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

In February, Marsh and 27 fellow state delegates visited her alma mater, the US Air Force Academy, to tour the facilities. Delegates experienced a day in the life of an Air Force cadet, flying flight simulators, packing parachutes, and sitting in a TG-16A glider.

"My Miss America class was floored by the entire experience," Marsh said in an article published by USAFA's Strategic Communication office. "They truly got the whole cadet experience — dorm tours, flight simulators, hopping in planes, eating with cadets, and more. I really couldn't have thought of a better day to show them my home."

Mike Peterson, outreach division director for USAFA's Strategic Communications office, said he hopes the visit will inspire the Miss America delegates to promote the academy in their home states.

"We're hoping that one of the things that the delegates will talk about is how they participated in Miss America's homecoming at her college, the US Air Force Academy," Peterson said. "They are going to represent their states for the rest of their lives. We hope they will continue to spread the word about the Academy and their positive experience here."

'I serve as 2nd Lt. Marsh, and I serve as Miss America simultaneously.'

Second Lieutenant Madison Marsh poses for a photo through the open hatch of a C-17 Globemaster.

Second Lieutenant Madison Marsh poses for a photo through the open hatch of a C-17 Globemaster. US Air Force photo by Miriam Thurber via BI

By serving in both crown and uniform, Marsh said she hopes to empower young women to lead in any space, regardless of any gendered misconceptions.

"I hope that women are able to see that they can define their own role in the military — whether they want to take it in the more feminine path or not — knowing that they are empowered to make that decision," Marsh told DOD News in February. "I hope young girls can see that you can lead in the military, or you can lead in a board room, in the courthouse, in medical boardrooms — whatever it might be — and you can be taken seriously.

"Whether I'm in a crown and sash or whether I'm in my uniform, I serve as 2nd Lt. Marsh, and I serve as Miss America simultaneously, and they do not take away from one another."

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