FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Army Family member and veteran Joyce Dodson won the 2008 Operation Rising Star military singing contest Nov. 14 at Wallace Theater.

Dodson, 24, of Bamberg, Germany, is married to Sgt. Marquis Dodson of the 240th Quartermaster Company. She served four years in the Army and now works in Human Resources at the in- and out-processing center at Schweinfurt, Germany.

Runner-up honors went to Fatima McElveen, the 20-year-old daughter of 1st Sgt. Michael McElveen, who last week transferred from Fort Campbell, Ky., to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Fatima is a junior at Middle Tennessee State University majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in Spanish.

Both performers applauded the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command for allowing military Family members to participate in the contest that started on 47 Army installations, camps and forward-deployed locations around the world.

Dodson, a gospel singer from George Washington High School in Danville, Va., got excited as soon as she realized that she could enter.

“I saw the flier and said, ‘Oh, my goodness, I would love to do it,’” she said. “I know every year they have it, but this year they said Family members could participate, and I was like, ‘Great, that’s me!’”

“America’s Got Talent” producer Nigel Caaro, one of three judges for Operation Rising Star, was touched by the sincerity of the Army MWR program.

“I was so impressed that within an organization that exists for very different reasons, there is an outlet for every kind of talent,” Caaro said. “Whatever you’re enlisted as, if you have a desire or a dream, you can fulfill it. I think it’s great the Army allows that to happen – they give the time and the space to find out what talent they have and provide an outlet for it.

“It was amazing that one of the contestants actually said they forgot it was a competition until people started to be eliminated.”

Dodson’s first-place prize will move her one step closer to her dream of recording an inspirational gospel CD. She won an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Los Angeles to record a three-song demo CD at DMI Music Studios. She wishes she could take all of the Operation Rising Star finalists to California.

McElveen won $1,000 as runner-up. Army Spc. Cyril Powell of Fort Bragg, N.C., earned $500 for third place.

Army Staff Sgt. Victor Trinidad of Fort Lewis, Wash.; Air Force Staff Sgt. Dirik Cole of Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras; and Army Pfc. Star Exum of Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, rounded out the six finalists.

Contestants at the installation level won $500 for first place, $250 for second, and $100 for third.