Academy cadet pushes past comfort zone with beauty pageant, PEER mentoring program

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Spradlin
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Savannah Menken isn’t afraid to test the limits of her comfort zone. Whether it’s applying to the Air Force Academy or entering a beauty pageant on a whim, Menken believes life is meant for adventure.

“I had never done anything like a pageant before, never walked on a stage,” she said. “I couldn’t even walk in heels a month before the pageant, but my mother was a pageant winner in Oregon, and I thought it might be something fun to try.”

Menken researched the Colorado pageant system and settled on the Colorado International pageant. She said the platform-based scoring structure and the community engagement opportunities attracted to her to the organization. Fifty percent of the scoring was tied to a series of interviews and how well she represented her platform: ocean conservation.

“I liked that in representing your platform, you are representing something larger than yourself,” she said. “And I think when you wear a uniform, it’s similar.”

Menken grew up on the West Coast and developed a deep love for the ocean. Living now in a land-locked state, she thought it was important to make sure ocean conversation stayed in the public consciousness. She champions sustainability solutions, recycling, and limiting one-time plastic use.

Menken was unsure how other cadets would view her new pageantry hobby but said the benefits outweighed the risk. Pageantry, she said, was another way to maintain a healthy life balance while concentrating on her academic and military requirements.

“It’s funny when I first let people know I was going to the Academy, that I was joining the military – I got a lot of the same surprised faces,” Menken said. “But I just think you should do what you love and not miss out on things that could be cool opportunities for you.”

Menken’s mother, Lisa, a technical sergeant in the Air National Guard, was surprised but also proud her daughter decided to try out pageants.

“I never pushed my three girls to compete in pageants—in fact, Savannah is the first to try it out for herself,” Lisa said. “Savannah has always been full of unstoppable energy; she has never been afraid to try something new.”

In April, Savannah competed and won in her age group. Menken advanced to the next level of competition, which will have national and international contestants. The competition takes place in Charleston, West Virginia, July 26-27.

Menken is also active in her squadron serving in the PEER mentoring program and as one of the reconditioning coaches for cadets who fail their physical fitness tests. Her goal is to attend graduate school following the Academy and serve in aviation or military intelligence.