The first of a series of screenings for the Binibining Pilipinas 2016 wannabes kicked off today, Feb. 12, 2016, at one o’clock in the afternoon at Novotel Manila Araneta Center in Quezon City. And because I can’t be proud enough of my friend Gina Joy Howell, whom I witnessed to be going through the same punctilious and stringent screening process four years ago, for fleshing out a portion of my all-time favorite beauty queen Lara Dutta’s answer during the Final Question of the Miss Universe 2000 pageant by “foraying into the armed forces,” let me share a photo of her from that day and a photo of her today. Click each photo for better viewing.

From a dedicated varsity athlete in Angeles City, Pampanga, to a soft-spoken Aces and Queens beauty queen finishing as 2012 Binibining Pilipinas semifinalist, Gina Joy Howell is now a hard-core soldier serving her father’s home country where she was also raised. On Feb. 5, 2016, she came off with flying colors from her training at the United States Army as distinguished graduate.

I bet you’ll agree that it’s hard to imagine the metamorphosis of an ultrafeminine woman who’s worn the Mutya Ning Pampanga 2008 crown and deemed fit for Binibining Pilipinas 2012 International title now looking fierce in her fatigues instead of looking glamorous in her elegant evening gown, fighting for the most powerful country in the world in boots instead of sashaying in swimsuit onstage, with an intimidating badge instead of sash, bouquet, scepter, trophy.

“I’ve always wanted to join the U.S. Army since I attended college back in Pampanga, the Philippines. I joined because I know I’m hitting multiple birds with one stone. I get to be physically fit, to further my education, to be a better and stronger version of myself, and of course, to serve,” Gina wrote to me via Facebook.

Her mother, Melinda Barlao, told me in one of our constant calls that Gina may have been inspired by her father who was in the U.S. Air Force before he went west. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I feel as though I am the proudest mom in the world.”

But the rail and road that Gina took before last week’s culmination of her dream was not a piece of cake, although, in a way, she may account for her participation in Binibining Pilipinas 2012, the Philippines’ premier beauty pageant that sends our national delegate to Miss Universe, to have contributed in terms of discipline, persistence, and perseverance.

“Meeting our drill sergeants for the first time was very traumatic. They had us run with all our heavy bags and made us drop countless times,” Gina recalled.

Gina added that one of the drill sergeants told her that the moment he saw her, he knew she was going to be the distinguished honor graduate. She said, “I remember that I couldn’t execute one correct push-up, and they were all over me screaming. My being an E4 specialist made them want to come at me even more, trying to break me, but for some reason I just kept trying my best to do what they asked me to do.”

And then she went on to being the first platoon guide representing fifty-five soldiers. But en route to that, Gina shared that they made sure she’d met the demand of a sharpshooter for rifle marksmanship, scored high in her army physical fitness test (sit-ups, push-ups, running), and passed all graduation requirements.

Already at twenty-four and obviously more equipped, we can only hope that our ever dearest Gina Joy Howell may still be qualified, agewise, to come back to Binibining Pilipinas by the time she signs out of her three-year contract with the U.S. Army—for her updated resume will then be more than remarkable to be brought to the judges’ table, let alone be feasted upon by scribes and enthusiasts alike on blogs and the like.

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Gina Howell during Bb. Pilipinas 2012 screening

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Ariel Allera, this blogger, with Gina Howell right getting confirmation that she just became Bb. Pilipinas 2012 official candidate

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Gina Howell during Bb. Pilipinas 2012 screening

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