This article originally appeared in the March issue of Military Officer.

IN HER WORDS |  Former Capt. Raquel Riley Thomas, USA, Owner, An Officer and Gentlewoman LLC

Raquel Riley Thomas isn't your typical veteran. After joining the Army in 1990 as an enlisted photojournalist, she became an ordnance officer through the Green to Gold program; she left the service as a captain in 2002. Fewer than eight years later, she was crowned first runner-up as Mrs. America. 

In 2011, Thomas started An Officer and Gentlewoman LLC, a production company specializing in state beauty pageants. Soon after, she made history when she bought the rights to the Mrs. Pennsylvania America and Mrs. Delaware America pageants. She was the first African-American to own three pageants within the Mrs. America organization. 

The Talent Portion

I was a drummer in a rhythm and blues band when I was a teenager. I was trained by my grandmother, who was a musician.

Giving Back 

Unfortunately, my mother, an Army veteran, committed suicide in 2013. I did a walk with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in remembrance of her. It's important to me to give back because of my upbringing back in the '70s, [growing] up in a very poor neighborhood in Maryland. I give a portion of all ticket sales from all three of my pageants to a nonprofit that focuses on the health and welfare of active military members, veterans, and their families. 

Strong and Beautiful

I'm not seeing as many veterans in pageants as I would like to see. I see more spouses, which is exciting. The few veterans who have come through our pageants, such as the Mrs. D.C. America Pageant, have done well. We had a Marine [Zoraida Rodriguez-Keeton] win first runner-up and an Army veteran [retired Staff Sgt. Alicia Watkins, USA] win second runner-up in 2016.

Military-Skill Transfer

The most important thing is being a team player. I [run my business] with a team [composed of] subject-matter experts - just like in the military.  

One Last Question: Oscar Pick?

I'm hoping Get Out brings home awards. That movie was intense, the cinematography was top-notch, and the acting was impeccable. 

- By Cathy Artino