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Power of the Pin-Up: Female veterans visit VA hospital patients

Pin-Ups for Vets raises funds for veteran groups
Posted at 6:08 AM, Nov 11, 2019

The road to military service varies widely.

"I was a military brat," said Melanie Franco. "I served in the military for eight years."

"I originally went in to be in the band," said Megan J. Martine. "I actually served in the Marine Corps from 1995 to 2002."

"I was a senior in high school when 9/11 happened and just kept hearing that we needed more volunteers," Shannon Corbiel said. "I joined the Air Force after 9/11 and I was an intelligence officer."

"I wanted to be a part of something bigger and I do come from a small town and I'm a natural tomboy so it seemed to fit the bill," said Erikka Davis, an Army veteran.

The motivation to serve our country is these women's common ground.

"I was a military police officer at Camp San Luis Obispo," Davis said. "I was in for six years. I enlisted when I was 17. We deployed to Iraq in 2003-2004."

Uniforms, military lingo, strict structure and a strong sense of duty were second nature for these women during the years they spent in the service.

However, when the time came for Templeton native Erikka Davis to take off the uniform, she felt a void of purpose and identity.

"It was very difficult," Davis said. "In the beginning, we just wanted to get back to normal and unfortunately, I think rushing that process didn't help."

After her service, Melanie Franco tried to immediately immerse herself into her new life in Paso Robles.

"You kind of forget about yourself, I guess," Franco said. "Being in the military, I was a mechanic in the military and you don't really get to be feminine and so you keep up with the boys and then when I separated, I started a family and put a lot into being a mother and being a wife."

Many of these women can relate.

"Because I enlisted at such a young age, I never really fully explored that world of dresses and heels and makeup and hairspray and curling irons, all the things that make us feminine," Davis said.

"I always joke that the military didn't teach me how to do hair and makeup, that wasn't a priority for the United States Air Force, understandably," said Corbiel. "But reclaiming some of that femininity is something that has been really meaningful for me."

That's thanks to a non-profit called Pin-Ups for Vets, founded by Gina Elise 14 years ago.

Elise is not a female veteran, instead, she's a patriotic civilian who admired her grandfather's service in World War II. That's the era the pin-up look comes from.

"You put the red lipstick on, you get the pin-up garb on, the heels, the hair, the whole thing," said Martine. "I think it's fantastic because you really transform."

The ladies call it that transformative feeling the "power of the pin-up."

The non-profit orchestrates free makeovers for female veterans and military wives.

Paso Robles barber Reina Buerster lent her hair-styling skills to give Davis and Franco a 1940s-inspired look.

"These women have sacrificed more for our country than I could possibly ever think to do," Buerster said. "So I love donating my time for this. It's fun!"

It's a treat to thank the women for their service.

"This is a great start to the morning," Franco said while having her hair curled.

The ladies' mission for the day was just getting started as they wrapped up the makeover process.

"Today is hands-down my favorite part," Davis said. "We're going to go to the Fresno VA hospital and we're going to visit with some of America's heroes who are hospitalized."

Armed with calendars, the women met with hospitalized heroes to hear their stories and share their own.

As they flipped through the months, Davis and Franco told the patients about each female veteran featured in the calendar, all dolled up for a good cause.

"Words can't describe the emotions that come over you when you get to hear their story and they get to hear our story. It's just very special," said Davis.

Davis and Franco gave some 100 Pin-Ups for Vets calendars to patients at the Fresno VA Hospital during a September visit.

All the calendars given to patients were purchased by civilians online as a donation and thank-you to our troops, past and present.

"It means so much to us. You can't imagine what it means," said Army veteran and hospital patient Edgar Eugene Red.

That feeling is mutual.

"It makes our day as much as it makes theirs," Franco said.

The process, though emotionally difficult at times, is healing for the Pin-Ups for Vets ambassadors.

"It's an honor to have served and to be able to give back after service," Franco said.

"When our service ended in the military, we thought that that was it. We couldn't give back anymore and we were done," Davis said. "Pin-Ups for Vets has actually opened a door to where I can give back."

New friendships, new experiences and a commitment to service far beyond the line of duty.

Pin-Ups for Vets is currently doing a 50-state tour. PUFV ambassadors are visiting VA hospitals across the country to hand out their calendars.

The organization also sends calendars to our troops overseas to help boost morale.

Calendars may be purchased online for $15. Pin-Ups for Vets also accepts donations through its website.

If you would like to nominate a female veteran or military wife for a makeover and photo-shoot or become involved with the Pin-Ups for Vets organization, contact founder Gina Elise at gina@pinupsforvets.com.