National Guard soldiers all learn to move from the civilian world to the military world and back again. It is the nature of citizen soldiers to adapt and make that change. But some soldiers make a much bigger change than others.
On drill weekends, Pvt. 1st Class Karissa Grossman is logistics specialist with Charlie Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, Johnstown, Pa. During the week, Grossman is a full-time Army technician working as a tool and parts attendant at the Aviation facility in Johnstown. Recently she has been serving as the Hazmat coordinator for the facility while the technician who normally holds that job is deployed to Afghanistan.
In addition to her work as a Soldier and technician, Grossman has another uniform. This uniform has a sash and the headgear is a crown. Karissa Grossman is currently Miss East Coast after winning her region in the America’s Miss Pageant earlier this year. In July, she will be competing against women from around the country in the America’s Miss Pageant in Maryland.
Grossman wanted to fly and to be Miss America for much of her life and she is on track to realize both of her dreams.
“I joined the National Guard because I’ve always wanted to fly,” said Grossman. “I looked into different branches and saw the National Guard Warrant Officer Program would let me go to flight school and the Army would pay for my schooling on top of that. Right now I'm working on my flight packet.”
Born in Kings Park, Long Island, New York, Grossman’s family moved to Johnstown when she was in the third grade. She said moving to a new place is difficult, but she has done very well in Western Pennsylvania. Grossman went to Johnstown High School where she graduated at the top of her class. She was also elected class President, President of the Key Club, and President of the National Honor Society.
During high school she also modeled, competed in beauty pageants and threw the javelin for the track team. “My dad served in the National Guard in the 1970s,” Grossman said. “He did his six years as a Cobra mechanic in the New York National Guard. He is the only one who served in the military in my family.”
“Everyone was shocked when I joined,” she said. “I modeled. I entered pageants I was not the kind of person they expected to join the military. I told everyone I wanted to fly and I did not want to be in debt for the rest of my life because of something I wanted to do.”
As she simultaneously works toward completing a bachelors degree and the requirements for flight school, serving in the Guard, working as a technician, and competing in higher level pageants she integrates her many roles in her pageant platform.
“When I compete in pageants I have a platform,” she said. The platform is the issue that she will bring attention to in her public appearances. “I am very big on women's rights,” Grossman said.
“When I speak at schools sometimes it will come up that I am in the Army,” she said. “Right away, the kids will ask what's that like being in the Army. And the little boys who thought I was just a girl and had “cooties” suddenly get interested in what I am saying.”
Grossman said the Army and pageants are two different worlds. “I go from wearing camouflage and being relaxed to being all dolled up and appearing in front of a large audience. Sometimes the transition is difficult and people wonder how I can do it.” She admits it is not always easy to transition from standing at parade rest while talking to someone in the military to having people at a pageant crowd around her for autographs and pictures.
She makes the transition among the various roles in her life smoothly most of the time, but not always. “I come to work in my army uniform and then right after work I have an appearance as America's Miss in my sash and crown,” she said. “Sometimes I will walk into a building and try to take off my crown off like it's my army headgear.”
Her plans are moving forward on parallel tracks. The next step in her Army career is going before a Warrant Officer board prior to flight school. Then, in July she will compete at the next level of America’s Miss and if she wins that pageant, flight school could be delayed during her reign as America’s Miss. At the same time she will continue to pursue her college degree. Eventually she will add a tasseled mortarboard and an Army flight helmet to her choice of headgear to go with the crown and the patrol cap she wears now.