The Queen of the Lakes goes to war
A queen trades her gown for camo | courtesy of Jessica Chayer
When Jessica Chayer (née Gaulke) was crowned Queen of the Lakes at the 2006 Aquatennial, she anticipated that her year-long reign would culminate at the Ten Best Days of Summer celebration where she would pass on her crown to her successor. Her service to the Aquatennial Ambassador Organization came to a halt however when her National Guard unit was called up for a different type of service in Iraq. After representing the Aquatennial in the Rose Bowl and turning her crown over to Jenna Berhhardson, Chayer headed to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where she will be stationed until her deployment in August. She took a few minutes out of her training to talk to City Pages.
CP: How did you start doing pageants?
JC: My sister had run the year before me for Ms. Robinsdale and got crowned the Robbinsdale princess. I saw that she was meeting a lot of friends and having a good time and it just opened her to a whole world and I figured I would try it out and I did. I guess they're not really considered pageants, they're more scholarship programs.
CP: What was the highlight of your time as Queen of the Lakes?
JC: I would definitely say it was just meeting people. The Commodore [the Queen of the Lake's escort] also gives his award to volunteers at all of the coronations and festivals we went to. And just the amazing things that people do for each other and their community and the state, it's just unbelievable. So I think meeting those people and learning what they do for the city and the state was probably the most rewarding.
CP: What skills do being Queen of the Lakes and a member of the National Guard have in common?
JC: Definitely working with people from all over. As Queen of the Lakes, you're going around to different communities and communicating with different people. Here a unit from Washington joined our National Guard unit from Minnesota and also a group of people from Hawaii is joining us and when we ship overseas, we're joining a unit from Germany. We have a whole mesh of people that are from all over the place. And just working together as a team also is something that's in common. Not only was there a queen, but there were two princesses and then we each had kind of an escort. I had the commodore and then there were the captains that escorted the princesses.
CP: Did your fellow Queen of the Lakes contestants give you a hard time about being in the National Guard?
JC: No. I mean, I think people were kind of taken aback when they didn't know and then they found out. I think they were kind of like, "wow." I think that's why this has become huge publicity—because it's two ends of the spectrum of, as you say, beauty queen and army woman or whatever. I hope I put the word out that it's doable and you can be involved in whatever as long as you give it a hundred percent.
CP: How did being Queen of the Lakes prepare you for your training and deployment?
JC: I would say more so the Guard prepared me for Queen of the Lakes. I've been in the Guard for almost 6 years now. In the Guard when you learn things and you go to school for things, then you go back and you teach your unit those tasks. So I would say getting up in front of large crowds and speaking and also just being an individual because going away to basic training when I was 17 years old was kind of a huge shock to me—as I'm sure it would be to many people—going somewhere where you know nobody and a new environment, so I think that's kind of prepared me for a lot in my life.
CP: What's been the toughest thing about your National Guard training?
JC: I would say just being away from home, friends, and family. It's physically demanding and mentally and emotionally and everything—everyone has a difficult time being a way from home. And just the luxuries of home, things that you don't think of as being luxuries of just being able to eat when you want and being able to go to sleep when you're tired and the privacy and things like that.
CP: What will your duties in Iraq be?
JC: As of right now I will be a generator mechanic.
CP: What is it about serving as a National Guardswoman or serving in Iraq that's so important to you that you'd be willing to make those sorts of sacrifices?
JC: That's probably one of the hardest questions to answer. I don't know. I think people either have it or they don't. It's so hard to explain the feeling. It means so much that we have the freedoms we do and can wear we want and say the things we want. I think freedom is why I do it..
CP: Do your fellow guardsmen and woman give you a hard time about being a "beauty queen"?
JC: Yeah. I get my fair share. If you ask me, it's good ‘cause then I push myself more and kind of prove myself back to them.
CP: What is going to be the hardest part about leaving for Iraq?
JC: I mean, obviously it's going to be difficult going into a war zone. I don't know. I would say again being away from home. My love is growing for the state of Minnesota, that's for sure—just the climate and the familiarities. You're kind of going into a whole new world of not just surroundings but people. It'll definitely be a change.
The Aquatennial History exhibit at the Hennepin History Museum will feature Chayer (and her gown) during the Aquatennial celebrations. $4; free Saturday July 14. 2303 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.870.1329. Through July 22.