When Denise Barnes serves as a military air transportation specialist, she spends a weekend loading military planes with missiles, bombs or sometimes even the remains of soldiers killed overseas.
This weekend, however, Barnes will be sporting something other than military camouflage -- she'll be in glitzy heels and an evening gown.
Barnes is competing this week in the 90th annual Miss California pageant. It concludes Saturday at the William Saroyan Theater. It is the 22nd year the competition has been held in Fresno, and it features 52 young women from throughout the state.
Barnes, a 21-year-old Fresno State political science major and a reserve for the Air Force, is the reigning Miss Fresno County. She will be competing against 53 other contestants with the hopes of becoming Miss California.
"It's inspiring to see other girls around my age who have such tenacity and it's really good to see young women like this in California," Barnes said.
She credits her father, who served in the Army, as the one who inspired her to join the Air Force. If crowned Miss California, Barnes plans to take a year off from school to promote assistance to those serving in the military.
"I have a passion for helping my fellow brothers and sisters in arms," Barnes said. "I want to raise awarness to continue to support our troops."
Barnes is one of seven women with ties to the Valley in the pageant this year. Also seeking the crown are Miss Kings County Mackenzie Dias, Miss Tulare County Tara Broderick, Miss Merced County Danielle Diele, Miss Gavilan Hills Caelin Nieto, Miss Central Valley Blaire Bostwick, Miss Clovis Morgan Edwards and Miss Central California Regional Kathryn Faull.
Faull is a 21-year-old Humboldt State student originally from Stockton. She began competing in pageants after her mother encouraged her to pursue the scholarship prizes.
"As a child, I swore that I would never be a pageant girl," Faull said. "However, when I knew I would be attending Humboldt State, I knew I needed scholarships."
This year's winner will be awarded with a $12,000 cash scholarship to an accredited instituion of her choice.
After competing for the Miss California crown in 2012, Faull said she's more prepared for this year's pageant.
"I just have a better sense of myself and who I am," Faull said. "I feel more equipped having already been here."
Faull would like to help end hunger insecurity in the state if crowned Miss California.
"It's a dream of mine to have my own nonprofit organization that fights against hunger insecurity," she said.
Tuesday's Miss California preliminary winners
Evening wear: Emily Tom, 17, San Francisco, Miss County of San Francisco, Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory High School
Talent: Felicia Stiles (dance), 21, Concord, Miss East Bay Cities, California State University, Fullerton graduate
Tuesday's California's Outstanding Teen preliminary winners
Evening wear: Morghan Heim, 17, Stockton, Central California Regional, Lincoln High
Talent: Taylor Longbrake (vocal), 17, Eastvale, Miss Eastvale, Santiago High
Schedule: Contestants will be competing in preliminary events all week with the final crowning at 7 p.m. Saturday
Also: In additon to the Miss California pageant, the Miss California Outstanding Teen will be crowned Friday
Tickets: Fresno Convention Center box office or online at Ticket Master for $43.90
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