THE ROCK RANCH, Ga. –
Capt. Deshauna Barber, Miss USA 2016, was joined by fellow Army women to change the lives of young women during a weeklong camp.
The Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation’s “Girls Who Rule the World Mentoring Camp” is an annual youth enrichment program for young ladies, ages 13-18.
Thousands of applications were submitted but only 100 were selected.
From July 26-30, these lucky winners had the pleasure of getting up before the sun and enjoying some early morning exercise, attending several conferences and training sessions, and participating in hours of activities at the camp, tucked away in rural Georgia about an hour southwest of Atlanta.
In addition to Barber, they also had the opportunity to share and learn from the first female Command Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army Reserve and be led through various activities by U.S. Army Reserve female drill sergeants.
The goal of this camp is to create leaders and empower young women to pursue excellence in every area of their lives.
In order to achieve this goal, the girls were assigned two mentors in groups of 10. This pool of mentors was comprised of active Army and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers and college ROTC cadets.
“I think the Soldiers are great because it offers our girls discipline but it also shows the girls other career options,” said Karli Harvey, the daughter of Steve Harvey and the spokesperson during the camp.
“The leadership from the Army has been amazing,” Harvey said. “It shows our girls structure, strength, determination, a will to never give up, to keep reaching for your goals … I can tell that being a woman in the U.S. Army is not easy, you have to be a bad something-something to make it.”
The Soldiers stayed with the girls for the duration of the camp and gave them guidance, taught them about discipline, and provided perspectives on leadership and service.
The mentors were hand-selected by leadership in each Army component and each Soldier chose to attend for a unique reason.
For Master Sgt. Cynthia Johnson it was the idea of giving back to young girls in the community who have a desire to seek self-improvement, growth, and mentoring overall.
“I had some difficulties during my teen years so I like to share some of those experiences to inspire others,” said Johnson, a human resources specialist at the U.S. Army Reserve Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and a licensed counselor.
“I had low self-esteem and depression. There were times I was bullied, and I spent a lot of my teenage years isolated, so I just have a heart for girls that may be going through similar experiences.
“I think the best way to encourage someone is to share yourself and be transparent. Don't try to put on a facade to make it appear as though you've always had it together, because when you are transparent then people can respect you more,” Johnson said.
Part of learning this self-respect includes setting attainable life goals.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones, the 9th Command Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army Reserve and former special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, epitomizes what a woman can truly achieve with hard work and dedication.
“I would say they truly can be whatever they want to be,” Jones said. “They are the ones who determine who they are and how far they want to take their opportunities. The sooner they realize and understand that it is within themselves not their environment, the choice is theirs. That's internal empowerment.”
Mentoring, networking, and leadership were some of the focuses of the camp and these were highlighted through team-building exercises, small group panels, and influential guest speakers.
One of these influential speakers was Barber, commander of the U.S. Army Reserve's 988th Quartermaster Detachment.
She spoke to the girls about learning how to face their fears and knowing that they are limitless.
“I hope the girls take away fearlessness,” she said. “I think that sometimes when we are young we are afraid of our future, our grades, a bully, a family member, or even finances. At the end of the day, there is always fear of something that is going to stop you from getting to where you want to go. I feel like this camp, more than anything, gives them an opportunity to believe in themselves and feel as though they can chase their dreams.”
Barber also shared her personal struggles to demonstrate that the circumstances they may find themselves in don't have to negatively shape who they are – challenges are meant to make you stronger.
One of her biggest hardships was her mom passing away three months after winning Miss USA.
“I think that you just realize how short life is and you realize how important it is to spend your day focused on being the happiest you can be,” she said.
“What motivates me is just really focusing on what I can do to make people smile and I try to spend my day-to-day being inspired by people that surround me.”
This is the second year Barber participated as a guest speaker at the camp recognizing the value of having female Soldiers mentor these young girls.
“I think Soldiers make good mentors because when people see us they automatically feel some sense of respect and I feel like it's easier to respect someone in uniform who's willing to risk their life for you and your freedoms,” she said.
The Army prides itself with building specialized and elite teams that make a real difference in the world and for this nation every day.
“We know what it's like to live the Army Values,” Johnson said. “Some individuals don't understand what it means to have values, what it means to be trustworthy, disciplined, to have courage and so that's what we can offer. I think it is also important the girls see, that as women, we can do anything. It doesn't matter what you've heard let me show you what I can do.”
Victorian Smith, a junior counselor at this year's camp, is no stranger to the program. In 2015, she attended as a camp mentee following up that experience as a junior counselor since 2016.
She said she learned to challenge herself by digging deeper and building a network of trusted mentors and advisors.
“I see the value in having a mentor because we all go through things and we all need people to talk to even the people who mentor us,” Smith said.
“So when you have that person in your corner sometimes you just need to let things out and they are always there to listen or to give advice.”
As the daughter of Army parents, Smith aspired to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for her. But Smith never gave up.
She reached out to an ROTC instructor at Xavier University in Ohio and landed a Minuteman Scholarship and will start the road to her military commission this fall.
“I joined JROTC in 10th grade and I absolutely fell in love with it,” Smith said. “I joined all the teams but one and I got a taste of that lifestyle and I was enjoying it and then it just became something that was a part of me. That's when I knew that being in the Army was a part of who I would become as I got older.
“If it wasn't for this camp I probably would have never gone into the Army,” Smith said. “When I came during my 10th grade year I met some sergeants and they inspired me and seeing them I said to myself, 'That has to be me one day, I have to wear that uniform, I want to call myself a Soldier.' This camp inspired me to be who I am today.”