Minnesota Beauty Queen Hands Off Tiara Before Heading to Iraq

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."

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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."