Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how you thank someone for their service

In 2006, Gina Elise decided to support the United States' war effort by finding a creative way to help hospitalized veterans. She created a calendar inspired by World War II nose art — and in the thirteen years since, she has devoted herself to the military community. From donating tens of thousands of dollars in medical equipment, to visiting thousands of vets at their bedside in hospitals all over the country and overseas, to supporting Gold Star Wives and military families, she has been a beacon of light for service members and their loved ones.

And this week, Mike Rowe and his team decided to return the favor in a major way.

If you've never heard of Pin-Ups for Vets, this moving episode of Returning the Favor is a perfect introduction to Gina, her ambassadors, and some of the inspiring veterans she has impacted along the way.

Here's your feel-good moment of the week:


I dare you not to cry:

Gina was informed that a production crew wanted to film a documentary about her organization. She had no idea that this was actually for the Facebook show Returning the Favor, hosted by Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs, Somebody's Gotta Do It). The show highlights "bloody do-gooders" and presents them with a gift that will support the great work they do.

For Gina, it wasn't too far off from her normal routine: pamper some vets and military spouses with thank you makeovers, visit service members at a local hospital, and swap stories at the American Legion. You'd never know from her bright smile and picture-perfect look how much work she put in behind the scenes to coordinate all the activities.

That's the thing about Gina — she's one of the most generous and hard-working people out there, especially when it comes to supporting the troops.

I should know — I'm one of the vets whose lives she has changed.

(Image by Shane Karns. Hair and Makeup by Ana Vergara. Dress by Voodoo Vixen.)

Dani Romero, Gold Star Wife.

"One of the things we do is morale-boosting makeovers for military wives and veterans," begins Gina, who has seen firsthand the effect a pin-up makeover in particular can have. There's something about it that feels a little extra special, from the classic look dating back to a heroic time in our nation's military history, to the bright colors, to the inherent playfulness that comes with a flower in the hair.

Female veterans have said it helped them reclaim some of the femininity they put aside in the military. Spouses and caretakers often set aside their own needs but being pampered for a day helps them restore their energy and health.

Even Mike Rowe got on board with a...transformation...of his own!

(Image by Shane Karns. Hair and Makeup by Ana Vergara. Dress by Voodoo Vixen.)

Mike Rowe and Navy wife Mary Massello have some fun on set!

If you can't tell from this photograph, Rowe is as playful and kind as he is the professional host America has come to love. His altruistic show is a great match for him — every minute of Gina's week, he was full of energy, genuinely interested in the stories the service members had to share, and perfectly tight-lipped about the surprise he had in store.

More: Pin-Ups for Vets brings out the bombshell in a military caregiver

"What do you need?" he asked Gina.

"I've always wished that we had a big sponsor that would sponsor the rest of the tour so we could meet our goal of visiting all fifty states and veterans across the country," she confided.

Neither Rowe nor his crew even blinked. Talk about well-practiced poker faces.

(Image by Shane Karns. Hair and Makeup by Ana Vergara. Dress by Voodoo Vixen.)

Smiles abound when Gina is in town!

Navy Vet Jennifer Watson tends the bar at the American Legion post in Pomona where she shared what it was like being among the first women to serve on an aircraft carrier.

"It was very hard. It was very discriminatory. You cannot help but want to be active in the fight for everybody to get what makes us equal," she shared. "I think everybody should do a little bit of service for their country so that you understand what it is to sacrifice."

Also read: Pin-Ups for Vets proves women can be strong AND feminine

Rowe also sat down with Josephine Keller, one of Gina's ambassadors and a 26-year Air Force air medic. Keller was there on 25 June 1996 when Khobar Towers was bombed in Saudi Arabia. It was her first deployment and one she'll never forget. Rowe asked her how many lives she saved. With the kind of humility that leads me to suspect the number is both very high and also tempered by the number of lives lost, Keller responded, "I was part of a team, so we have touched thousands."

Finally, it was time for Gina to feel appreciated.

American Legion Post 43 Adjutant and Army Veteran Dianna Wilson was the "Insider" for Gina's big surprise.

"Gina thinks we're continuing the photoshoot at a second location, but that's because we lied to her!" Rowe winked. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, the veteran community was gathered for a celebration. Gina is graceful and the epitome of class, even when she has absolutely no idea what's really happening.

Which makes it that much more meaningful when Rowe finally revealed the true intention of the week. When he handed Gina the check for $30,000, her reaction was completely genuine and had every person in the lot in tears — and I guarantee a few more were shed at home.

"Thank you so much for helping us to continue what we do. This is a team effort. Thank you guys for supporting this vision that I have to give back. You give me the strength to keep going. From the bottom of my heart, I love you so much and I couldn't do it without you, so thank you," shared Gina, as eloquent as ever — in spite of the shock.

"Print more calendars than you think. I'm not kidding. You're gonna sell a bunch," suggested Rowe, who accurately predicted that people from all over the country would be eager to buy one.

At $15 a calendar, there's really no reason not to.