By Steve Arel/Eastern Region ROTC Public Affairs
KINGSTON, R.I. (TRADOC News Service, Nov. 3, 2004) – Believe it or not, turning an about-face is really no more difficult in high heels than in combat boots.
“I don’t have any injuries,” Allison Paganetti said matter-of-factly.
To appreciate her ability to execute military facing maneuvers in both types of shoes, you first have to understand why Paganetti has amassed a diverse footwear collection. The new Miss Rhode Island is an Army ROTC cadet with the University of Rhode Island, where she is, military program leaders say, a blossoming leader.
Before the 20-year-old became the state’s representative in October in next year’s Miss USA pageant, the junior from North Kingstown spent two years regularly donning Army fatigues instead of evening gowns and dolling her face with camouflage paint instead of foundation and blush.
Paganetti relishes the life of a cadet and has committed to become an Army officer after graduation in 2006. Despite her passion for pageants and the demands to stay beautiful, she doesn’t shy away from firing rifles, venturing out on field-training exercises and “rolling around in the mud.”
And she’s good at it. Paganetti typically surpasses the maximum score of 300 on the Army physical-fitness test, something she credits to her dedication to keeping her body in shape for being in either the pageant or military spotlight.
“I do everything to ROTC standards,” she said. “I expect to be treated like a cadet. I don’t put anything else in the way.”
Paganetti was crowned Miss Rhode Island Oct. 10, emerging from a field of 41 women. The finals were held at Rhode Island College in Providence.
Paganetti was surprised and overwhelmed when her name was announced, breaking down in tears. She didn’t expect to win. Then again, she never does because she doesn’t want to be disappointed if she comes up short.
This time, of course, she wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s an extreme goal I’ve been working for so long,” Paganetti said. “I was just shocked to make the top 10. … All my hard work has paid off.
“ROTC encourages us to be motivated to have goals. I was just enforcing one of things they were teaching us,” she said.
Judges warmed to Paganetti’s personality, said Elaine Paolo, regional assistant and parents director for the Miss USA competition that oversees Miss Rhode Island.
“When she came out on stage, she was shining,” she said. “She’s one of the most confident girls I’ve seen in a while.”
Lt. Col. Paul Krajeski, who heads Rhode Island’s Army ROTC department, expects Paganetti’s pageantry success will bring the program much-welcome attention.
“I expect it to bring to light our program to people who don’t even know we exist,” he said. “It can also show that cadets are individuals who have their own hobbies and come together as ROTC cadets for a common purpose – service to the nation.”
Krajeski joined the university two years ago when Paganetti began her freshman year. He described her as an emerging leader who will “capably lead our Soldiers someday.”
Krajeski has seen her develop considerably over that time, becoming more mature and exhibiting a great deal of motivation and initiative. She’ll need those qualities to try and juggle the demands of a cadet and of Miss Rhode Island.
But those who know Paganetti, a kinesiology major who also is pursuing a minor in military science, said they believe she will manage to meet all the obligations.
“She knows her priority as a cadet for the school year is to prepare for LDAC (Leader Development and Assessment Course at Fort Lewis, Wash.),” Krajeski said. “The program is committed to her being all she can be at the competition.”
Being a cadet, Paganetti said, is tougher than competing in pageants because of her inexperience with ROTC. She chose to be part of the program because of its reputation for producing leaders by enhancing management and leadership skills and promoting self-motivation.
That’s where she said ROTC has helped in the pageant realm, driving her push for success.
Paganetti, whose grandfathers served in the armed forces, is eagerly anticipating her military service. She’s not sure yet if she’ll make it a career. If she doesn’t, she plans to return the pageant field, possibly training others for competition.
Paganetti is a relative newcomer to pageants. While many begin taking the stage as toddlers and even infants, her career started at age 12 when she decided to live out a dream.
Paganetti relishes the thrill of competition. Her passion for being on stage was not hurt by the fact she quickly found success, finishing in the top four in her first competition and being invited to participate nationally. Her charm, poise and, of course, beauty, have earned her an array of honors and recognition.
Perhaps her most notable crown, before winning Miss Rhode Island, came last year when she was named Miss U.S. Model at a competition in Nashville, in which she beat out women from around the country.
But competing in other pageants, Paganetti said, doesn’t compare to Miss Rhode Island, a qualifier for Miss USA that comes with considerable visibility and an array of prizes. Among them: cash, jewelry and clothes.
She said she wasn’t nervous being on stage with thousands of people in the audience, including friends, family and ROTC cadre cheering her on.
“When I compete, I feel more at ease. I’ve been preparing for so long,” she said. “It was all or nothing for me, so I put everything I had in to doing it correctly.”
That meant spending countless hours performing physical training, conducting mock interviews and practicing public speaking. She trained with her younger sister, with whom she spends considerable time helping her blossoming pageant career. Briana Paganetti, 14, just won Rhode Island’s Miss U.S. Teen Model.
Allison Paganetti’s platform centers on community service. She volunteers with children and the Special Olympics.
“Those are the things that make me happy,” she said.
Meanwhile, trying to juggle the life of a cadet with the responsibilities of Miss Rhode Island will be no easy feat. As a cadet committed to being a future Army officer, she still has classes to attend, projects to tackle and drills to complete. And as Miss Rhode Island, she will be making many appearances, speaking to various groups and, come April, representing her home state on the national stage in Baltimore.
“I push myself as hard in ROTC as I do in the pageant world,” she said.
Paganetti is used to the grind. She runs on little sleep, getting only four or five hours a night. She gets up around 4:30 a.m. to exercise and doesn’t go to bed until about midnight.
The grueling pace can be tiring, but she said it’s worthwhile.
“I was always raised and told that if you don’t have time, you make time,” Paganetti said. “If that means taking hours out of my sleep, that’s something I have to do.”
For now, many of those waking hours are spent preparing. No Miss USA contestant from Rhode Island has won the competition since it began in the early 1950s. And only Miss Rhode Island 1973 finished in the top five.
State pageant organizers say that could change with Paganetti. She has the looks, the talent and the charisma to win.
But Paganetti, as usual, isn’t building up herself mentally.
“Whatever happens, happens,” she said.