By Wrangler Network contributor Miss Rodeo America
Hey y’all! I’m so glad you could enjoy this sunny Southern day with me here on the Miss Rodeo America Blog. I’m writing to you (with a cold glass of sweet tea in my hand) from the great state of North Carolina!
Unlike some of the other ladies who grew up in the state they are representing, I haven’t lived in the Tar Heel State my whole life. I grew up in a small town in southeast Pennsylvania, where I started riding horses nearly as soon as I could sit up. Horses and equestrian sports have always been a constant in my life, even while I attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. I rode on West Point’s Intercollegiate Equestrian Team for four years, and served as a team captain during my Senior year. My involvement with Equestrian team defined my years at West Point – and that’s not just because my coaches, Peter and Sherry Cashman, sparked my love of reining and western horsemanship. West Point is, at it’s core, a leadership institution, and while I sat through countless hours of lectures, courses, and study periods with the express intent of developing me into a future Army leader I can safely say that the greatest lessons I learned were taught on the grounds of West Point’s stables. Some days just arriving at Morgan Farms, inhaling the scent of horses and hay, was enough to convince me to keep driving on through the stressful and trying times that many cadets experience. When it came time for me to graduate and commission as an Officer in the United States Army, I tucked all of the experiences I had into my kit bag for the future – right next to my inextinguishable love for horses.
After graduation I landed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Airborne and Special Operations. I refer to North Carolina as my “adopted” home because of the incredible impact it has had on my life: I credit it for giving me my love of shrimp and grits, sweet tea, and rodeo! I was only at Fort Bragg for a few short months before I deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan for year – the longest time in my life that I have spent without riding! While my experience deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom is one I would never trade, I was excited and ready to return to North Carolina and seriously pursue my riding goals. My “barn family” (both the two- and four-legged kind) at Fox Ridge Stables in Raeford, North Carolina, greeted me with open arms when I came back from deployment. Once again – just like when I was a young cadet at West Point, uncertain of my abilities and of my future – I leaned on riding, horses, and the equestrian community to help me through difficult times.
Most believe that war ends when a service member returns home, but for some the battle is just beginning. Reintegrating into life stateside is challenging no matter how long or where a Soldier has been deployed to, and while the stress of combat can produce personal growth and confidence in one’s abilities, it can also produce lasting emotional wounds. The statistics are staggering: one in three returning service members are diagnosed with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and twenty-two veterans commit suicide every single day.
Luckily for me, my transition from my deployment in Afghanistan was eased by my amazing support system and most importantly, by my horses. It was this support system that got me involved with rodeo in North Carolina, where I have had the honor of getting to know many men and women who not only serve their country with distinction but who are genuine hands inside and outside of the arena. I know that their time under those Friday night arena lights, as well as the strong bonds they have formed with stock contractors, fellow competitors, and fans has made their time in the military easier and more enjoyable.
The values of patriotism, honor, and sacrifice are held in such high esteem in the rodeo community, and no matter where I go – from the Carolinas to Wyoming, from New Jersey to Colorado – I am genuinely floored by the outpouring of love and support that the rodeo community shows our troops. Whether I am bowing my head to pray before a grand entry or galloping at top-speed with Old Glory streaming behind me, I can feel the passion our community has for freedom, liberty, and the American way of life.
As I finish my tall glass of sweet tea, I want to reflect on why I chose to be Miss Rodeo North Carolina. Traveling to some of the largest and most historic rodeos, meeting influential members of the Western industry, and making new friends has been amazing. I am incredibly proud to represent North Carolina and our sport of professional rodeo, but I am prouder still to represent the United States Army. I hope that when I wave to a crowd during a queen’s run or when I’m signing autographs that people do not see Devin Redding, Miss Rodeo North Carolina and Army Officer. Rather, I hope they take a moment and remember the 255,000 men and women that are currently deployed worldwide. And as I bring this blog post to a close, I ask each and every reader to take a moment to say a prayer for America’s sons and daughters who are defending our freedom and who give us the opportunity to continue to live our western way of life.