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Alabama teacher crowned Ms. Veteran America

Mary Ann Hotaling is an Army veteran and Army wife who has been stationed all over the country, from Texas to Kansas to Florida and Mississippi.

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By SHELLY HASKINS | al.com | Published: November 4, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — When Mary Ann Hotaling finished off her 50-mile “ruck march” to raise money for homeless female veterans on Sept. 26, she thought it would just be her and a friend hiking with full packs through downtown Huntsville, Ala.

Having just lived here a year, (she moved to Athens from Kansas last year and works for Decatur City Schools) Hotaling wasn’t fully aware of how much Huntsville and North Alabama loves its veterans.

By the time she arrived at the HuntsvilleMadison County Veterans Memorial “I had about 40 people ruck marching with me,” Hotaling said.

“I love it down here,” said Hotaling, an Army veteran and Army wife who has been stationed all over the country, from Texas to Kansas to Florida and Mississippi. “This is truly one of the friendliest states that we’ve been stationed in.”

Her ruck march fundraiser raised $27,464 for Final Salute, a charity that helps homeless female veterans find stable housing and get back on their feet.

It was also key to Hotaling winning the title of Ms. Veteran America over 25 other national finalists on Oct. 11. In total, the finalists raised more than $110,000 for homeless female veterans.

The judging criteria included a grueling interview, knowledge of military history, fundraising and advocacy for homeless female veterans. The $27,464 she raised for Final Salute was the most of any contestant, and she also was named to the Top 10 in talent – a lip sync to “All That Jazz” from the musical, “Chicago.”

Ironically, Hotaling is an accomplished singer, and has sung the National Anthem at NFL and NASCAR events, as well as at a veterans event at The Rocket City Trash Pandas' Toyota Field in Madison this summer. But the judges mandated that the talent portion be “a fun lip sync” for all the contestants, she said, to level the playing field for those who carried a rifle better than they carry a tune.

After nailing all the judging criteria, Hotaling — who left the Army in 2002 as a captain and served as an ambulance platoon leader in Bosnia — was named the winner of the contest, which was done virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now she has a national platform for a year to promote veterans issues, especially her favorite charity, Final Salute.

She’s still finding out the details of what her year as Ms. Veteran America will be like, but for her it won’t be just a tour of the country wearing a tiara and sash and waving at crowds. She plans to use the Ms. Veteran America platform to take the work she’s been doing locally and make it a nationwide effort.

“This is where the real work starts for me. I don’t want my year to be about parades,” she said. “I want it to be about putting in the work.”

Want to help?

To see Mary Ann Hotaling’s Ms. Veteran America Finalist page and donate to her cause visit https://www.facebook.com/maryannh4MVA2020

To donate to Final Salute, visit www.finalsaluteinc.com

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