Denise Berry deserves a little down time on the beach near her home in Santa Cruz. Her life is about to get very hectic.
"They were like, why would you want to do this?" Berry said of recruiters who questioned why she would want to be in the Miss California pageant.
Where Denise has been that's extremely rare for a beauty pageant contestant
"I was there for 400 days, and I was a medic," said Berry. "I worked in three different prisons. We saw a lot more gunshot wounds, amputations, that sort of thing that are more prone to be in war versus what you would see in an emergency room here in the states."
Berry spent four years on active duty in the Army and is now a sergeant in the Army Reserve. The pageant says she's the first Iraq war veteran ever to compete.
"When you win, you get to do humanitarian work for living for a year," said Berry. "You get to be the face of a lot of different sponsors, and helping children in schools and just putting your voice out there and speaking into people's lives who are young."
Nastassya Saad, Miss Sausalito 2010, competed in the Miss California contest last year. Saad believes Berry's military background may be a big advantage.
"Someone coming from her background, who has seen what she's seen, I think she will be able to really excel in her interview and tell stories no one else can tell," Saad said.
"I chose to join the military and it was an awesome experience," Berry said. "It made me more fit, it made me more strong mentally and physically, and made me a good candidate for Miss California, I think."
But what if she doesn't win? Barry says that's where her religious faith comes in.
"Even if your friends or family fail you, there is something bigger and better that you can hope for in the future," Berry said, "especially when you're going through trials and tribulations in the moment. You'll know that there will be a brighter day to come."
She expects that brighter day whether or not she becomes Miss California -- but winning couldn't hurt.
This year's Miss California pageant takes place next month in Palm Desert.