“It’s kind of a unique experience being in two different arenas, and it’s been an amazing journey,” said Sgt. Autumn Mitchell, an engineer in the Louisiana National Guard’s 225th Engineer Brigade. Mitchell, a 25-year-old mother of two from Pineville, had never entered a pageant competition before being chosen as Ms. LSU Alexandria 2015, which comes with a total of $1,500 in Chancellor’s scholarships. “I’ve always wanted to do a pageant, and it’s so much more than a beauty contest or a popularity contest,” Mitchell said. The stated mission of the Ms. LSUA Pageant committee is to encourage students’ academic and professional development.
“I really love LSU of Alexandria,” said Mitchell on being able to represent the school in her new role. “It’s a fantastic school!” She views her role as Ms. LSUA 2015 and her development as a leader in the LANG as an incredible chance to grow. “It’s such an honor and privilege to serve in the Guard. So many people do thank me for my service, and my response is always, ‘it’s my pleasure,’ because they [LANG] have given me so many opportunities to develop my leadership skills.”
On the different reasons for enlisting, Mitchell said, “First of all, I feel like it’s kind of a family legacy to be in the military.” Mitchell’s father was a Marine, her godfather is a retired LANG major, her brother is in the Air Force, and another brother served in the Army and later in the LANG. Besides her family tradition of military service, Mitchell had a son by the time she joined the LANG at the age of 21. “I knew that the Guard could give my family so many benefits as far as providing a secure future for them.” Mitchell had a second son in 2014 which is also the year she enrolled in the ROTC program at LSUA, putting herself on the pathway to becoming an officer.
As a cadet, Mitchell received an ROTC Honors Award, as well as the Military Order of the Purple Heart Leadership Award. Academically, she is a strong student majoring in history who made the Dean’s List in the spring of 2015 with an overall grade point average of 3.8. Mitchell’s development in the LANG impressed her supervisor so much, that he “actually has her functioning in a platoon leader position,” said Sgt. 1st Class Seth Bordelon, readiness noncommissioned officer for the 831st Survey & Design Team, 225th Engineer Brigade. “She’s a very dynamic individual. Everything she does has a purpose. She’s doesn’t ‘half-step’ at anything,” he added.
It was while preparing for the Ms. LSUA competition that Mitchell saw an opportunity to highlight Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Each competitor had to make a presentation, and Mitchell’s was titled, “Invisible Wounds: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”. Mitchell has not deployed, but she knows the effects of PTSD in friends and family. She says her brother, Charles Taliabue, had difficulties with PTSD after overseas tours. “I’ve seen firsthand all the struggles and victories (he’s had) with it,” she says. “I feel that it’s something that our community should be more aware of, help do their part to recognize PTSD and also help those who are going through it.”
Mitchell says her brother is doing well now after finding a good balance in his life. Keeping a balance among her roles as a LANG sergeant, college student, ROTC cadet, mother, and pageant winner gives Mitchell a unique perspective.