Sgt. Theresa Vail will be representing Kansas at the 2014 Miss America contest, becoming the second military woman to compete and the first contestant ever to expose her tattoo in the beauty pageant’s swimsuit round.

Vail, who joined the Kansas Army National guard three weeks after her 17th birthday, plans to strut down the runway with her two tattoos fully on display. On her left shoulder, Vail has a tattoo of the insignia for the U.S. Army Dental Corps. Inked on her right side in large calligraphy is the Serenity Prayer. After displaying her tats during the Miss America preliminaries in Atlantic City on Tuesday, Vail has gotten some flack, but it won’t change her mind about letting them show.

"Why am I choosing to bear my tattoos?" Vail said to People magazine. "My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink. How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can't do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all."

It is likely this attitude that led her commanding officer to encourage her to enter her first beauty pageant nine months ago, believing that she’s a worthy role model. Vail is nothing short of a renaissance woman. She’s an expert M16 marksman, bow hunter, skydiver, boxer and mechanic. She’s also fluent in Chinese and double majoring at Kansas State University in Chinese and chemistry.

Despite having a slew of well-honed talents, Vail was forced to pick up another just two days before her first pageant. She had planed on using archery for her talent, but found out that “projectile objects” were forbidden on the pageant stage. What did she do? She picked up opera – Luciano Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma” to be exact. In 48 hours, the high school choir singer had become accomplished enough at the singing style to take home second place in the contest.

When the Miss America Pageant airs on Sunday, Sept. 15, expect Miss Kansas to be a strong contender for the crown – tattoos and all. "Nobody expects a soldier to be a beauty queen," Vail said, "but I'm all about breaking stereotypes."

– Chelsea Regan

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