Ashley Salazar did a lot of stupid stuff growing up, probably no different from the stupid stuff we all did. But unlike many who made mistakes as teen, Salazar was "saved" by joining the Air Force.
"A lot of people don't even believe I served in the military," she says. "All they see is a pretty girl, but I was a tomboy growing up. Everyone does the kind of stupid stuff I did. When I joined, Uncle Sam became my dad in a way, making sure I stayed out of trouble. It pushed me to be more than I ever thought I could be."
She joined the Air Force because of the September 11th attacks. She actually had a potential modeling and acting career before enlisting, since her mother was also a model. But enlisting was something Salazar felt she had to do.
"I had a modeling agent, but I was really affected by 9/11. I was seventeen years old then," she recalls. "I had to wait a year to join. But I did as soon as I could. I talked to Marine recruiters and I talked to Coast Guard recruiters, but the Air Force seemed to call me the most. I wanted to serve my country. We have to fight for ourselves as Americans, but we also have to fight for those who don't have the freedoms we have."
The Air Force got a super troop in Airman Salazar. She was an element leader in basic training and despite a few stumbles, she graduated from Radiology technical training with a Commander's Award that hadn't been awarded in five years. Adversity is where Salazar thrives.
"I first got pregnant with my daughter in radiology school. I was having very hard time as a C student. But something happened to me, where she made me go from C student to A student – from the bottom to the top of my class." She was promoted early in a "Below the Zone" promotion and made Staff Sergeant this first time she tested for the rank.
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She spent much of her career at Keesler and Scott and she did everything she could to be part of the Air Force mission. She trained into mammography, volunteered to deploy to field hospitals, and even volunteered for Security Forces augmentee duty, a job few Airmen look forward to.
"All the cops were deployed," she says. "I was young, 18 years old, and I could go do my part. Not just for the civilians back home but for all the military members who had spouses and children. I could deploy so they don't have to. I did have to experience things I would have rather not have seen. Everyone does."
Salazar was stationed at Keesler AFB in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama. As hospital personnel, she was not able to evacuate the base and spent the aftermath, using X-rays to identify bodies —and body parts. In the meantime, she lost everything in the storm. When it came time to be relocated, she opted for Scott AFB in Illinois, to be closer to her family.
She liked her hospital job, but her favorite aspect of her Air Force career was a much higher calling: Honor Guard.
"I did over 600 Honor Guard ceremonies between the two bases and I was flight leader while at Scott," Salazar recalls. "Being able to give back and thank the families is the most gratifying thing I've ever experienced. I know someday when I pass, someone is going hand a flag to my family and it means a lot, it was and honor and it was humbling to be able to do that for people."
Her modeling came up again after photos of her at an Air Force Christmas party wearing a red dress appeared on the Medical Group's website. Everyone wanted to know who that woman in red was. The base photographer who took the photos begged Salazar for months to let him use her as a model. She was never really thinking of being a model.
"To be honest, I'm 5'7" and a little bit big around the top," she says. "And they like women who are thin and not shapely in the fashion world. Besides, I felt old at 23 or 24 and I thought 18-year-olds were the ones who modeled, not 24 year old airmen with kids. I finally caved and we did some photos. Shortly after, I was signed with an agency and then I got my first billboard across from the St. Louis Cardinals stadium."
After that, she started doing regular modeling work using her military leave, while still maintaining her Air Force career. She even expanded into doing her own photography for others. Eventually, she did a volunteer charity calendar that got her into hot water.
"Being a Super Troop kinda hurt me in the end because the standards of professionalism in the Air Force are so high, if you mess up once, it's unforgiving," Salazar says. "It was a dress jacket with a little cleavage, nothing from the waist down, and I was just saluting. Which cost me my quarterly award. They also took an oak leaf cluster. I didn't want to bring any discredit on myself or on anyone."
Salazar left the Air Force in 2008, when the U.S. job market was tanking on an epic scale. People were losing their jobs, no one was hiring. As a recently divorced, recently separated airman, Ashley Salazar had to take care of her daughter and her mother. She turned to her creative work.
"I started this blog when I started photography," she says. "I would interview people and take their photos and put them on this Tumblr page. Fast-forward five years and now we have this thing called MollMag which is now wildly popular. It's been my baby and now I'm taking it to the next level. We have a new international edition released in South Africa which we started in 2013."
Ashley is also currently in a contest to be the model for Pink Lipstick Lingerie. For her, it could mean a huge difference in her life and for her family.
"The one thing I haven't been able to do as a model is be a model for a lingerie company," she says. "It's a great opportunity to get into a catalog. A lot of these companies also use models for those funny Halloween costumes they have at stores every year. If I win this vote, they'll fly me to New York to do these shoots for them. Once you get into the catalog industry, its much more likely for your career to take off."
Through all her hard times, her experience in the Air Force has always stayed with her. It toughened her, it changed her, it prepared her for anything she might have to do in the civilian world. That experience gives her an edge, a down-to-earth, can-do mentality that keeps her from giving up where so many others might have in her position.
"I've been told no so many times for so many things," she says. "Being a mom means I have a couple of stretch marks. Real women do. In the beauty world, that's not ideal. It's a competitive industry and it's hard. My husband now taught me to embrace my body to accept myself my body for what it was and be happy with myself as we started to fall in love, I began to feel more comfortable and that's when the bikini photos started to come out."
"They only show one perspective of beauty out there, but real women are mothers too. I wanted to see a mother in Playboy, because it affects people around the world. Women all over the world see these women and then hold themselves to that standard. And they might think 'well, if I don't look like that, then I'm not beautiful,' but that's not true."
After the Air Force and her husband, Ashley credits her glamour model success to her fans.
"I'm lucky to have fans," she says. "I'm grateful for every one of them. I don't care if they follow all my work or just like my Facebook page because they think I'm hot. I'm thankful for each fan and I hope they stick around."
To see more of Ashley Salazar's work, visit her website.