By:Jan Mazotti Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Collaborator Profile
Through the course of liberating Iraq, female soldiers have conducted air missions, kicked down doors, disarmed mines and shed their own blood. This is a story of a Lance Corporal in the British military who doesn’t consider herself a female soldier, but a soldier who just happens to be female. This is the story of Katrina Hodge; one of only ten women in the Royal Anglians, an infantry regiment of the British Army, who have been posted in Iraq. She is also Miss England.
On a dare from her older brother, Hodge joined the military at 17. Arriving at boot camp in Winchester, Hampshire, with a pink suitcase and kitten heels, Hodge was immediately deemed “Combat Barbie.” Although chided and jeered, she successfully maneuvered training and was deployed to Basrah in 2005. While in Iraq, she served with distinction and won a commendation for disarming and detaining a suspected rebel fighter with her bare hands. She was given the commendation after members of her regiment were threatened at gunpoint by an Iraqi insurgent after the vehicle they were travelling in overturned and rolled three times. She said, “As I came round, the Iraqi suspect was standing over us with the rifles. I knew if I didn’t act fast then our lives would be in danger. I punched him and was able to retrieve the rifles from him.”
Also on a dare while on leave from Iraq, Hodge signed up for the Miss England pageant and was named the first runner up. So she headed back to the army to do her job. Sitting in the barracks in Surrey, wearing her greens and without makeup, she received the call that the previous winner had been asked to step down and that she was named Miss England. that she was named Miss England.
It’s All About Perceptions & Stereotypes
Hodge said that perceptions of women in the military and women on the pageant circuit are often misconstrued.
She said, “When I first joined the army I imagined that everyone would judge me and see me as inferior.” However, she soon discovered that much of her worry was based on her own insecurities. Once she proved herself physically she says, “No one judged me at all. To be honest, in the military we are all equal - we all pass the same fitness and medical tests.”
When Hodge first entered the pageant, she says, “I was keen to break the stereotype.” But what she learned was that the “stereotype” she wanted to break was based on her own outsider views. “People automatically judge women who are in pageants and think that they are self-centered.” What she learned was that women in pageants were not only beautiful but extremely intelligent—they came from all walks of life—from military, to lawyers, to doctors!
Innovation, Motivation, and Inspiration
Because beauty pageants are sometimes perceived negatively, especially the swimsuit round, Hodge decided to do something about it. She managed to have the swimsuit round of the Miss World pageant removed this year and replaced with a sporting competition. She said, “This will hopefully help with confidence. I mean it’s hard enough to get on stage, let alone in a bikini!” Replacing the swimsuit competition will hopefully also highlight other parts of the pageant like philanthropy.
Hodge is absolutely determined to succeed in life. She was laughed at when she joined the army and again when she entered the pageant circuit, but she continued to prove everyone wrong. She says, “I believe that if you set your mind to something nothing is impossible!” Regardless of gender or naysayers, Hodge says, “it is important for girls to realize if you want something in life you can do it. Just go for it!” I am determined to do well in life and make my family and friends proud.
Her inspiration is her Nan, a head strong woman with great passion and influence. Hodge recalls that at age 5 she was obsessed with Peter Pan. When she told people she could fly like Peter they laughed at her. But not her Nan. Nan would say, “Okay dear, you go show them not to laugh at you. You go fly!" She believed in everything I did and as long as I was happy. She made me believe the sky was the limit.
When recalling combat in Iraq, Hodge says she had little fear. “I could walk out tomorrow and get hit by a bus,” she said. “I just live each day, try to enjoy life, and make my life worthwhile.” At only 22, Hodge looks back on a couple of life-changing events with pride. “I am proud to have represented my country on two different levels. Walking on stage at Miss World was most definitely an amazing and very proud moment.” She would argue that lots of young girls dream of being a beauty queen, including her, but she never imagined that dream coming true. “To know I was the only girl from my country on the stage was amazing and I am so thankful for the amazing experience I had at Miss World.”
Being a self proclaimed “girly girl”, she is also very proud of the first time she completed an assault course—it just seemed impossible. Now, looking back with a laugh she says, “I thought the fitness was going to kill me!”
In the end, Hodge knows it is much more than looks that got her to where she is and she hopes to share that with girls. “I know I am not the best looking girl in England—but being Miss England is so much more than just looks. I want to show girls how to be happy with and proud of who they are.” Furthermore, she hopes that she has had a positive influence on the recruitment of women in the military. Hodges says, “I think women are going into what used to be male jobs... Why not? If a woman can do a job to the standard required—of course she should do it!”
Even though she didn’t win Miss World, Hodge plans to continue her service in the Army and continue modeling for lingerie maker, La Senza in the UK. She is also the new face for England’s premier dating site – Uniform Dating. "I like coming to work with no makeup on and rolling around in mud," Hodge said. "But I like being glamorous and girlie as well."
She goes on, “I was very proud to win a commendation for my work, but I think it’s time to salute other heroes out there and the fantastic jobs they have done!”
By the way, don’t dare her to do anything!