MINNEAPOLIS – Jessica Gaulke passed on her title as Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes on Thursday to prepare for a tour of duty in Iraq, cutting off her reign to satisfy her commitment to the Minnesota National Guard.
"I know it's the right decision ... it's been an emotional ride, a long one," said Gaulke, who has been queen since last July. "But six months as queen was better than nothing."
Gaulke announced in November that she would be joining her unit for duty in Iraq.
Aquatennial President Jim Erickson — who presided over the passing of the tiara to Jenna Bernhardson, a former Miss Svenskarnas Dag — said it was the first time an Aquatennial queen has been in the military, much less called to active duty.
Gaulke, a former Miss Robbinsdale, committed to the Guard before graduating from Cooper High School.
Dennis Schulstad, a retired Air Force brigadier general, said Gaulke turned down an offer to take a leave that would have allowed her to take part in the Aquatennial in July.
Gaulke will suspend her studies at Augsburg College, where she's a senior majoring in sociology. Her unit will head to Fort Hood, Texas, in March for training and will deploy to Iraq in August for a 12-month tour.
Before then, she plans to marry Jeff Chayer on Jan. 13. "It feels like I've barely got a minute," she said. "After the honeymoon, I've got to get my gear in order. And go."