Pin-ups who empower veterans, raise support

Jessica Phillips, an Army veteran who served in Iraq after graduating from Hart High, stands next to Santa Clarita’s Veterans Historical Plaza, which bears her name, alongside 1,500 other names of veterans who’ve served in the military. PHOTO BY SHAE HAMMOND / THE SIGNAL
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Nearly 15 year ago, Gina Elise saw a need in her country and a way she might be able to help, so she went into action.

Veterans were coming home from service overseas without enough resources, facing an outdated, overmatched Veterans Administration system and, in general, many were not getting the help they needed for a number of different reasons. 

Although not a veteran herself, for Elise, it was still a very personal concern.

“Basically, back in ‘06, there were a lot of stories of our troops coming back from Iraq needing medical care,” Elise said. “And I felt very strongly that I wanted to do something to support and give back to our troops and I wanted to do something creative.”

More than a dozen calendars later, Elise is working on her 15th edition, having raised money to support over $70,000 worth of state-of-the-art rehab equipment, visited more than 70 hospitals and garnered congressional recognition, according to the Pin-ups For Vets website. 

Through Elise’s efforts, which have included help from a couple of Santa Clarita veterans, as well, she’s been able to accomplish her three-part mission: sell the calendars to raise money for wounded veterans; deliver the calendars as gifts to ill or wounded veterans; and to send the calendars to troops serving overseas as a morale boost.

Vintage look 

The calendar’s vintage, nostalgic feel is inspired by one of Elise’s personal connections to veterans, according to her site:

“My late Grandpa Lou served in the Army for four years during World War II. I wanted to do something to honor his name. I always loved the romance of those bygone eras — especially the 1940s — and I drew inspiration from the World War II pin-up girls, whose photos and paintings boosted morale for our soldiers fighting overseas.”

The classically stylized pin-up portraits offer a new kind of outlet for veterans, too, according to Elise and some of the magazine’s participants have really appreciated the opportunity, she explained. With inspiration from the 1940s style and art, Elise has helped women veterans build confidence by giving them makeovers for the calendar.

“It’s kind of nice when they get out they can explore these different sides of themselves that may have been on the backburner while they were serving,” Elise said. “A lot of the girls now watch hair tutorials on 1940s hair and makeup, and their closets are full of 1940s-style dresses, and they love getting to be dressed up in order to give back. I like to say we make volunteering glamorous.”

ennifer Marshall, a Navy veteran and actress who also works as a private investigator in Santa Clarita, participated in the calendar to raise money to help veterans and raise awareness for women who are veterans. PHOTO Courtesy Pin-ups For Veterans

Female empowerment

Longtime Santa Clarita resident Jessica Phillips, who’s among the many local veterans featured inside Santa Clarita’s Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall, appreciated the feeling of giving back, and what she called a “sisterhood” among herself and the other veterans participating. 

Phillips joined the military after graduating from Hart High School, and was deployed to Iraq in 2005. 

When she came back after four years, she noticed that female veterans were often given different considerations, especially at first glance, and the calendar was an empowering experience for her, she said. 

 “Sometimes, people look at you and don’t think that you’re a veteran. If you’re at the VA, they think it’s like a spouse or a boyfriend that you’re there with,” Phillips said.

The calendar helped her realize a network of veterans out there just like herself.

Phillips’ family also noticed how that realization helped her adjust back to normalcy, after what can be a very traumatic experience, according to her Phillips’ mother, Leah Phillips.

“I know the struggles that she went through coming out of the military, and it’s really hard to acclimate when coming back from Iraq,” explained Leah Phillips, mother of Jessica Phillips.”I think that Gina, with this organization, gave her the ability to start feeling better about herself. For me to see so much joy that comes from her giving back, it makes my heart happy.” 

Raising awareness 

For Jennifer Marshall, a Navy veterans who’s since been active in a number of causes, participated in the calendar to pitch and to help raise awareness about the issues facing veterans, particularly women, who face challenges and experiences that are different from their male counterparts.

“Women do not self-identify as veterans as much as men and they are less likely to seek out services regarding economic struggles, food insecurity, homelessness, substance abuse, suicidal ideations, etc.,” said Marshall, who served in the United States Navy for five years, was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

For Jessica Phillips, it was a memorable way to help out, as well.

“It’s pretty cool to be a part of the sisterhood with all the other amazing female veterans and Gina,” said Phillips. “I never thought I would have been part of something like that but I’m very blessed for Gina to allow me to be part of the pin ups for vets organization.”

To order a calendar from Pin-ups For Veterans, visit: 

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