A role she was born to play

As a former Miss Sprint Cup, Paige Duke has plenty of experience talking in front of crowd numbers in the hundreds of thousands. As the star of CMT’s 2012 season of "Sweet Home Alabama," Duke got plenty of experience in front of the camera.

She’s taken those experiences and has transferred them over to rallying support for the nation’s veterans and servicemembers as spokeswoman for Soldier’s Wish, a program in partnership with The American Legion. Duke is traveling across the country with the Legion and Soldier’s Wish for Salute and Serve events, getting behind the microphone to explain the program and working the Soldier’s Wish booth to interact with visitors at the various events.

During the recent HISTORY event in New York City, where Soldier’s Wish and the Legion had a booth, Duke talked about her involvement with Soldier’s Wish and why the programs matters so much to her.

The American Legion: How did you get involved with Soldier’s Wish?

Paige Duke: One of the first events they did was at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Memorial Day race weekend, and I live in Charlotte, and they needed some extra help. They brought me in, (and) they found out I was formally Miss Sprint Cup for NASCAR, was good on the microphone, could interview some of the soldiers we needed for our video production. They tested me out in a few different events – MCing, taking people on tours, doing interviews – and said, "We love you. We want you to come on tour with us for the whole summer." I thought it was an awesome opportunity.

Q: You have a connection to the military, don’t you?

A: My family comes from a strong military background. My dad was an (Air Force) fighter pilot. He flew F-16s. I was born in Germany (where he was stationed). My uncle was in the Army. My other great uncle flew F-16s.

Q: What was it about Soldier’s Wish that appealed to you?

A: All those (other military and veteran) programs are wonderful, but there isn’t anything for all types of soldiers: active duty, veterans, don’t have to be injured, military families. So I think it’s such a cool program that people can nominate someone that they know that maybe needs help with something or has an unmet need. We can go make those wishes or needs come true.

Q: What’s it been like talking to these veterans, the active-duty soldiers, all these people you’ve been able to interact with at these events?

A: It’s so humbling, and it just makes you so grateful, so thankful that there are people out there like that that give so much for our country and sacrifice for it. It’s just an eye-opening experience getting to work with these people and going to these different events. Every event, people come up to you and have stories to tell about their sons or daughters serving, their father (serving). Everyone has these stories, and it’s mind-boggling, honestly, when you’re like, "Oh my goodness, I cannot believe this many people are affected by (military service)."

Q: Is your dad pretty proud about your role with Soldier’s Wish?

A: Oh yes. My dad loves to hear about the stories that I hear at these events and about all the amazing people that I meet. I think he’s very proud of what I’m doing.