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Miss America has never served as an air force officer on active service.

In addition to serving as the 2024 Miss America, Madison Marsh is a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force and a student at Harvard Kennedy School pursuing a master’s degree. She acknowledges that being in the military and pageantry can be challenging, but she is determined to change that. As the first active-duty Air Force officer to win the title, Marsh, 22, says, “This just proves that you can be feminine while leaning into your leadership role.”

Marsh was raised in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, among four siblings, a mother who served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and a father who practiced medicine.

After attending space camp, which sparked her love of flying, her aspirations of becoming a marine biologist were shelved. In 2019, she enrolled at Colorado SpringsAir Force Academy.

The high achiever continued her education immediately after graduating, working as a graduate intern at Harvard Medical School. There, she is researching how to use artificial intelligence to detect pancreatic cancer and is using her 2022 National Truman Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

According to Marsh, “none of it would have happened if I hadn’t joined the Air Force.”

Marsh adds, “My mom’s passion for service was the big part of her that I really loved.” “She worked for the town’s CASA program for foster children.”

Usually, Marsh’s mother would be tasked with helping a few foster kids at a time with everything from birthday present shopping to court appearances.

According to Marsh, “my mom really cared about giving back to communities and people.”

“And that’s what made my childhood so special—my mom wanted to provide a loving environment for us and for other children as well.”

The Whitney Marsh Foundation was established to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research, awareness, early identification, and patient care less than two weeks following her mother’s passing.

Her brothers made her go to the gym one day as a constructive diversion from the house. She describes her mother as “like, crazy, crazy athlete who would run 10 miles a day, then bike and swim.”

While there, Marsh felt compelled to do something to remember her mother. So, she organized an annual race, which since the foundation’s founding has raised around $300,000.

This year, she says, “one of my main goals is to look at international policy for pancreatic cancer as Miss America.”

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