PORTLAND, Maine – Sgt. Marina Gray, a petroleum supply specialist serving in the Army National Guard here, earned the title of Miss Maine USA on Nov. 26. She will go on to compete at the national level Miss USA pageant this summer, which could set the stage for an opportunity to represent the United States in the Miss Universe pageant in the fall.
The Mount Desert Island native comes from humble beginnings and said she overcame many challenges that helped shape her into the strong, independent woman she is today.
“I felt when I was younger, I wouldn’t be able to achieve what I wanted because I came from a low-income family,” Gray said. “I didn’t think my life would be as fruitful as it has been; I guess I got here because I just kept fighting for it.”
Gray said, above all, she wants to give hope to children who grow up in situations like hers – emphasizing they can still go after what they want and should never feel like they can’t achieve lofty goals.
“I left home when I was 16 years old,” she recalled. “When I joined the Army at 17, the military immediately became my family and has supported me through the years.”
Gray became legally responsible for herself through the emancipation process and graduated from high school in just three years. She left for Army basic combat training two months after her 17th birthday.
“I definitely think the military helped shape me into the hard-working, moral person I am today,” she noted. “I’m thankful I have the military in my life and everyone backing me.”
Gray has been in the Maine Army National Guard for five years. She spends one weekend a month with the 133rd Engineer Battalion’s Forward Support Company in Brunswick.
“Once I put my military uniform on, that is what takes precedence over my life,” Gray insisted. “I know the military comes first, and it always will.”
On a typical drill weekend, Gray and her fellow Soldiers conduct bulk transfers for different units throughout the state, including dropping off anywhere between 200-1000 gallons of fuel to help support other units.
She also performs preventative maintenance checks and services on vehicles, conducts driver and load handling system training, does flat rack loading and unloading, and participates in convoy operations and battle drills.
“It’s a lot of hands-on work,” she admitted. “We’re normally out servicing the vehicles to ensure they’re up to standard, and we make sure everyone is proficient in operating the equipment.”
Gray joined the National Guard to help pay for college. In the civilian world, she worked as a waitress while attending the University of Maine in Orono. She balanced a full course load with both jobs and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
The inspiration for Gray to enter the pageant world was Deshauna Barber, the 2016 Miss USA title holder who earned the distinction of being the first Army service member to compete and win the contest.
“Pageantry was never something I imagined myself doing,” Gray said, “but I think this is going to take me exactly where I want to go with my career, and I’m super-excited about it.”
There’s a lot of media interaction involved in pageantry, she noted, which translates to a wealth of networking opportunities for anyone carrying the Miss Maine title.
It took about three months for Gray to prepare for the pageant. She described it as an “every-free-moment” commitment with requirements ranging from confidently walking in various types of high heels to stage hair and makeup tricks.
“A big teaching point was having confidence in your looks. I was always afraid that physical beauty could easily overtake who you are as a person. I now understand that’s not true,” Gray said. “You can be both. You can take charge of your beauty and refuse to let it label you. Nobody should ever be ashamed of feeling beautiful.”
Gray said she received a lot of help from fellow pageant competitors. She discovered that many women entered in the contest had overcome adversities of their own.
“It’s really worth it to get to know the women you’re competing with because they can be really amazing for the most part,” she said. “The pageant system is a platform for them to share their stories and get other women to feel confident with who they are.”
The notion of competing on the national stage and represent Maine has become a source of great excitement for the Soldier. “I’m thankful for the opportunity as a whole,” she said. “It’s honestly an amazing community of people.”
What the title will allow her to do in the way of hopefully inspiring other young women who have recently joined the military, or are seriously considering doing so, is also a notion about which Gray expresses much excitement. She insisted they can still be as feminine as they want and not be afraid of what other people think. Additionally, they should be fearless in going after whatever goal or profession they want, even in a male-dominated career field.
“Ultimately, that’s the bottom line message here,” Gray summarized. “I can tell you it’s extremely overwhelming to have people tell me they are inspired by my story. At that same time, though, it’s motivating me to continue this journey of sharing and helping other people.” (Miss USA)