By OSD Staff Writer Hope Grinder

Thirteen years ago, Gina Elise started what would become Pin-Ups For Vets, a very unique nonprofit that produces WWII-style pin-up calendars that support hospitalized Veterans and deployed troops through the organization’s initiatives. It all began back in 2006 when she noticed that many troops returning from Iraq were in need of medical help. She felt inspired to help out in some way. With a passion for 1940’s artwork, specifically Nose Art, she decided to create a calendar featuring pin-up photography inspired by this era. She believed the calendar could boost morale for troops coming home and raise funds to support Veterans.

Not knowing the great impact it would have, she only intended on doing one calendar as a fundraiser. Supporters could purchase one for themselves, order one for the organization to ship to a deployed service member, or order one for a hospitalized Veteran, which Gina would deliver during a  VA hospital visit. It was a huge success, and when the next year rolled around, people were asking for the next calendar. They asked…Gina delivered. And the funds raised helped to pay for rehab equipment for therapy.

When she first started, all 12 months of the calendar featured Gina. But then female veterans started contacting her asking to get involved. It has since grown and evolved. The 2019 calendar features 19 female veterans who have traded in their military gear for 1940’s era fashion and hairdos. The decision to put female veterans in the calendar was one that paid off in so many ways. It allowed these amazing women to get their stories out there and has created a shift in the stereotype of what a Vet is. Once people saw them featured in the calendar, they wanted to know more about their individual stories. Gina is proud that the calendar is another way for female Veterans to feel empowered. They are able to continue their service while reclaiming their femininity, which can be pushed aside during their military service. And finally, when they actually go to the hospitals to visit the wounded Veterans, the Vet to Vet connection they have is something Gina alone couldn’t offer. The comfort they feel from someone who truly understands what they’ve been through is priceless.

The backdrop for this year’s calendar is the Queen Mary (nicknamed the “Grey Ghost”), the largest and fastest troop transport ship of the WWII era that sailed a total of 661,771 miles as a hard working war vessel. Gina admitted she’s a bit of a perfectionist, she does a great deal of research, and puts great effort into making every single detail authentic to the 40’s era. This year’s shoot took 3 days. When the Vets featured in the calendar make hospital visits, they also fully embrace the 40’s style. They watch YouTube tutorials to make sure their styling is accurate and timely.

Gina talked about how when Veterans transition out of the military, they seek purpose. Being in the military provides a profound sense of purpose. Without that, it is easy to feel a bit lost.  Involvement in the calendar provides that sense of purpose craved after service. And in addition to the service, the women form an inexplicable bond. Marine Corps Veteran and Pin-Ups For Ambassador, Jovane Henry, explains, “I came for the service. I stayed for the sisterhood.” Gina said hearing these women express exactly what their involvement in the calendar meant to them was extremely moving.

Arielle Pamintuan, USAF Veteran, explained, “I was enlisted in the Air Force as a linguist (translator). I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas for the duration of my enlistment. My favorite thing about serving was being able to go to a beautiful language school located in Monterey, California. I also loved being able to meet so many different people from different backgrounds. I think Pin-ups for Vets is truly remarkable because it gives back to those who have served. Only a small percentage of people take the oath to protect this country, so it is incredible that Pin-ups for Vets recognizes and helps these special individuals.”

Linsay Rousseau, Army Veteran, continued, “When I got out of the military I cut off virtually all contact with the military and veteran community. It wasn’t until I moved to LA and met an amazing group of veterans, that I started getting back involved. Pin-Ups for Vets was not only doing amazing work for veterans, but they were approaching it from a really unique angle, something no one else is doing. I love that I can be part of a group of extraordinary female vets and also give back to veterans.”

Julie Noyes, Army Veteran, explained it like this, “I discovered Pin-Ups for Vets on Instagram in 2015. I was blown away first by the idea that an organization existed out there that recognized, honored and visited the often forgotten older generations of veterans. Many of whom do not have family or a support system at their most vulnerable moments in life. These beautiful, energetic and smiling ladies were pictured alongside elderly veterans in nursing homes and I just had to learn more about who they were. When I discovered that these ladies alongside Gina Elise were veterans themselves, I was filled with pride and joy with my sisters in arms. It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring.”

Finally, Byrdie Gibbons, USCG Veteran, said, “Pin-Ups for Vets offers female veterans the opportunity to show their strength while also embracing their femininity. I also want to stay connected to my military roots and appreciate any opportunity to look out for my fellow service members past and present.”

The hospital visits made by the women in the calendar are incredibly special. They dress in their 40’s style head to toe, and often the visits are a total surprise to the vets. Gina told me a story about one Vet’s reaction when the women showed up, he asked if “he was dreaming,” and he also said that during the time they were there, his pain was gone. Another anecdote she shared was about a Vet who had a brain injury, and when Gina showed up to visit him, he spoke for the first time in a month. It’s so apparent that in addition to providing some much-needed joy and laughter to these vets, these visits can prove to be totally life-changing.

The visits happen all over the United States, as well as abroad. Pin-Ups for Vets is currently in the middle of a 50-state VA and Military hospital tour where they deliver calendars as gifts of appreciation to hospitalized Veterans. To date, they have visited over 12,000 Veterans at 67 VA Hospitals, Military hospitals, and State Veterans Homes across the US. Many of the Veterans they visit do not have friends or family nearby so the visits can be a difference between a good and bad day. Gina recited a quote that really sums up the overall sentiment of the visits, “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time.” 

But their work doesn’t stop there. Some of the other amazing things Gina and her team are doing include shipping morale-boosting care packages to troops deployed around the globe, fun pin-up makeovers for female Vets and military wives to show appreciation to them, and work with homeless Veteran shelters putting on events and donating gifts and clothes. To date, Pin-ups for Vets has donated nearly $60,000 to help VA Hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans’ healthcare program expansion across the U.S.

Pin-ups for Vets has received Congressional Recognition, and has been honored by the State of California Senate, California Legislature Assembly, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Business Journal, California Jaycees Foundation and Junior Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Women Business Owners. There have also been 10 flags flown above military bases and on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in honor of the work that they do for the Military and Veteran community.

At OSD, we have so much respect for Gina and the difference she and her team are making in the veteran community. We’ve also had the opportunity to send Supply Drop care packages to many of the troops who’ve received calendars while deployed. Like Gina, we believe resilience and selflessness Veterans demonstrate is just extraordinary. As Gina says, being around the community makes you want to do more.

For more information on Pin-ups for Vets, or to order the 2019 calendar, check out https://www.pinupsforvets.com