AUSTIN — Kayla West had to pinch herself — she thought surely she was dreaming!
The 16-year-old military dependent may wear a sparkling tiara on her head as the reigning Young Miss Copperas Cove Rabbit Fest, but on this particular day, she was truly treated like royalty.
West, the daughter of Sgt. Timothy Stutz of the 1st Cavalry Division, was one of a limited number of military teenagers ages 13-19 from Fort Hood selected for the USO’s Operation That’s My Dress, where she got the royal treatment from head to toe from titleholders in the Miss USA and Teen USA Pageant systems. So many teens at Fort Hood signed up to participate in the event that a waiting list was started and West was grateful that she was selected.
“All of these organizations were giving back to us and saying we are the heroes for our sacrifices by having our parents always leave and miss our school dances or concerts, maybe even birthdays and parties and basically just our lives,” the high school junior said. “The USO and Sherri Hill did an amazing job of making all the military teens feel special.”
Through Operation That’s My Dress, the USO ensures teenage girls are ready just in time for prom with a dress of their choice from international fashion designer Sherri Hill, among other notable designers in the fashion world. West and other teens were also treated to a beauty bar with jewelry and fashion accessories for participants to get a completely accessorized look from head to toe.
West arrived in Austin and enjoyed a sneak peek of the gowns she would soon get to try, one through a fashion show with Miss USA and Teen USA titleholders serving as the models.
“The queens put on the amazing fashion show and the USO Show Troupe put on an amazing performance,” West said. “It was so exciting.”
Following the entertainment, West was paired up with Miss Teen Arizona USA Karly Riggs, who helped the local beauty queen find her perfect gown. The USO Dress Expo was filled with more than 500 dress options and it was overwhelming for West.
“I tried on four dresses, but I selected the dress that seemed the most me,” West said. “It was a mixture of all the things I wanted in each one of the dresses. I liked the floral pattern, the two-piece style and the mermaid cut to the skirt. And, it fit me just the right way and where I wanted it to.”
After selecting her gown, West’s next visit was to the beauty bar, where she received a plethora of beauty products.
“I was able to select the necklace of my choice out of like eight, a Sherri Hill phone case, Elf lipstick, primer and eyeshadow that I picked out, Paul Mitchell hairspray, texture spay, heat protectant and I had my makeup and hair professionally done,” West said.
John Paul, co-founder of Paul Mitchell, was present at the event and oversaw the beauty services being provided to the teens. Teens were also asked to ask write an anti-bullying message and post it at the expo.
West walked away with not only a beautiful gown and bags full of beauty products, but she also walked away with an incredible experience that she will not soon forget.
“Getting to find the dress with Miss Teen Arizona one-on-one and becoming friends with everyone I talked too was most special about this event,” West said. “The people I met were really nice and the photos I have will be with me forever.”