Former Miss America shares veterans’ stories of service, sacrifice

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Sharlene Hawkes takes a photo with Iraqi children on one of her tours of Iraq. (Sharlene Hawks)

Sharlene Hawkes remembers as a child hearing her grandfather’s heroic World War II stories — stories he shared of the courageous men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms and rights of the United States.

Hawkes wants those stories, as well as tales from other veterans, to be heard and remembered. A former Miss America and mother of four, Hawkes has made it her mission to honor veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country she loves.

As an adolescent teen, Hawkes lived throughout Central and South America, where she loved to visit the different U.S embassies.

“As an American, I grew up outside of the United States and so I remember being really excited to go past the U.S. embassy just so we could see the American flag and see our men in uniform and those marines that were out front,” Hawkes said.

Hawkes attributes her love and respect for what the United States stands for to not only having immediate family in the military, but also her time living abroad.

“When you look at your country from afar, you really come to appreciate what it stands for and appreciate those principle of freedom and democracy that many other societies want,” Hawkes said.

Hawkes was crowned Miss America in 1985 while she was studying at BYU.  Her involvement with the Miss America organization allowed her to focus on others and develop platforms of service.

“I realized at that point that I had a responsibility to speak for others,” Hawkes said. “The more that you put the focus on them when you are in a position of the spotlight, it enables you to speak from a stronger place.”

Hawkes graduated with a degree in communications and earned a master’s degree in communications from the University of Utah.

She next used her voice as a reporter for ESPN, where she reported on a variety of sporting events from the Kentucky Derby to college football to the French Open. She worked for the sports network for 16 years.

Hawkes found her calling at StoryRock Inc. and specifically within the Remember My Service organization.

Twelve years ago, Hawkes was serving as the chief marketing officer for StoryRock, a company specializing in digital content management and digital scrapbooking. The Army Reserve approached the company, requesting help telling stories of its veterans.  The Remember My Service organization was born from this collaboration.

Remember My Service creates commemorative books and e-books for veteran groups ranging from the National Guard to Army units and brigades. Recently, the organization has worked with the Department of Defense for its Korean War commemoration material.

“I finally realized where my passion was, and it is in working with our military and veterans and telling their story along with helping people to relate to them, recognize and honor them,” Hawkes said.

Hawkes’ father, uncles and brother-in-law served in the military, “and the more that I got involved, the more important it became for me to help tell veterans stories,” Hawkes said.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen P. Condon said Remember My Service provides men and women in the Armed Forces with keepsakes and documentation of their service.

“In addition, the RMS historical commemorative provides the service member with a vehicle to easily tell the story of their service to family and friends, to communicate the importance of what they are doing for our country and to showcase the contributions that they are making in our national defense,” Condon said.

StoryRock CEO John Lund has worked with Hawkes for a number of years.

“Sharlene has an incredible and altruistic love for veterans,” Hawkes said. Lund said Hawkes is a true patriot who doesn’t forget veterans’ service and sacrifice.

Hawkes and her family will celebrate this Fourth of July by reflecting on what it really means to be a part of a nation with democratic ideals. She will also continue finding and sharing stories of the brave men and women who have fought to keep this nation free.

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