My name is Kelli Serio and I am a United States Navy Veteran. I come from a small town in Oklahoma, called Tahlequah. It took me 18 years to realize that I wanted to live a life of service and adventure. This is when I enlisted in the military.
I can recall a moment when I realized that joining the Navy was my only option. I was always searching for the next best thing after high school and I wanted to be a part of greatness. What better way than to serve my beautiful country while traveling the world?
My meeting with the Navy recruiters wasn’t typical. There was no persuading necessary on their behalf because I knew what I wanted. I walked in there and asked them how quickly I could go.
At just 18 years old I was off on a new journey with no clue what my future held. I was intrigued. I entered boot camp, which tested my ability to be good at improvising and making due with I had. It included a lot of marching, studying, working out and ironing uniforms.
I was appointed “RPOC” instantly on day 2. This stands for “Recruit Chief Petty Officer”. My duties were to run the division and keep them in check while we did drill. It was an honor to march my division into the building to the drum cadence holding the cutlass at graduation. My parents were so proud. A year prior to that I was leading my cheerleading squad.
The Navy gave me a new perspective on life. Being out of my comfort zone was something that I grew used to. Even today, I like to live my life in the same way, always pushing my limits so I can continue to grow.
I was fortunate enough to get stationed in sunny Southern California at Naval Air Station North Island. The only time I experienced love at first sight was when I stepped off of that airplane on Nov. 1, 2008. Palm trees and beautiful weather were in my reach, and I embraced them with open arms.
A feeling of never-ending bliss came over me. Life had taken on a greater meaning. Until that moment, I wasn’t really living. I was just going through the motions of what society does and what they think is acceptable.
Stepping onboard the USS Ronald Reagan for the first time was intimidating for a small town girl like myself. Adrenaline rushed through my veins, but I adjusted quickly. In no time, I was on my first deployment to the Gulf of Oman in May of 2009. We set sail, completed our missions and even hit some foreign ports on the way home.
I would be lying if I told you that ship life was easy. Living in close quarters with thousands of people for months on end has its ups and downs. In addition, the detachment from the outside world only to be lost in my own thoughts was unsettling at first.
I did anything to take my mind off of negativity. I had fallen off the wagon after a long history of physical fitness but being deployed brought me back to my roots.
I began to use fitness as an outlet for the anxiety I incurred while deployed. The aircraft carrier was well equipped and fully supportive of those who took pride in their health. Luckily, my division was small and more privileged than many others on the ship. We had the freedom to engage in positive activities.
I was meritoriously advanced a few months after my first deployment. I was a dual-qualified seaman (possessing both air and surface warfare pins), which was uncommon for a junior sailor. It exuded a sense of motivation and drive and it made me proud. I worked hard on the ship so it felt good to be recognized by the captain and other superiors.
In June of 2010, CVN-76 went on a cruise of a different kind. It was called a RIMPAC. We sailed around Hawaii and played battle games with different countries. Around that time, I was asked to become a qualified master helmsman. The duties of a master helmsman were tough and tedious. We were the ones partially responsible for the ship’s safety when we pulled in and out of ports, steered during high seas, strait transits and underway replenishments.
It was an honor to not only be one of a few sailors who could do this special skill out of thousands, but to be a female made it much more rewarding. My old navigator trusted me behind the wheel. The look of relief I received from him when I took the helm during tense situations makes me smile even today.
Time went on and eventually our ship was due for another deployment. We departed North Island on Feb. 2, 2011 on what we thought would be a routine cruise. It turned out that it was everything but that.
On March 11, 2011 a tsunami, triggered by the Tōhoku Earthquake, struck the Fukushima nuclear power plants. Soon after the incident, the plant began to release radioactive materials into the atmosphere. Doing what we did best, our ship put a halt on our original mission, and instead, rendered aid to Japan. We spent several weeks off the coast of Japan participating in what was later addressed as “Operation Tomodachi”.
Our relief efforts included giving the Japanese food and water supplies, search and rescue missions, signaling back and forth between ships, communications and many more. As soon as we were cleared to go, we traded positions with another carrier in the Pacific and headed to the Gulf. My supervisor at the time appointed me to send a message to the Japanese ships in Morse code as we departed. What a trip.
That deployment ended up being 8 months long. At one point, I never thought it would end. I kept my eye on the prize and eventually made it home. As my time in the Navy grew shorter, reality set in and I had to figure out what my next move was.
Before I served, I was a nursing major. But after years of ‘dressing down’ and not feeling like myself, I longed for a new way to self-express. The arts, or some form of it, were calling my name. One day, on our transit home from that last deployment, I was watching the news in my workspace. That’s when it hit me. I wanted to be a journalist.
I knew I had a story to tell and a new reason to live. I began to obsess over learning everything I could about my future career. That obsession eventually grew into a desire to enter the entertainment industry, too.
I was honorably discharged from the Navy in January of 2012. It was time to move on and fulfill more of my lifelong goals. I wasted no time in continuing my journalism education and also looking for ways to become an actor in Los Angeles.
In order to be closer to the entertainment capital, I did what most people do and made the big move to “The City of Angels”. Making sudden changes became natural to me after the life I had just lived. Picking up and moving at the drop of a hat was no big deal. I was a thrill seeker.
After several months in Los Angeles, I began to network and meet people very similar to myself. I became part of a group called “Veterans in Film & Television”. This group brings both active duty and prior military together to work towards common goals, much like the military. I couldn’t think of a better group of people to be exposed to than hard-working and dedicated people all striving for success in the same industry as myself.
The opportunities that came to me from this networking group are so big that they consume my life in positive ways everyday. A young lady named, Gina Elise, was casting for her annual pin-up calendar, “Pin-Ups For Vets”. I found out that several of my superiors in “Veterans in Film and Television” were pitching my name to Gina as a potential pin-up model for her newest edition.
One day out of the blue, I got a call from her and this is when my life changed, yet again. I had no idea that one picture in a calendar could change so much. At first, modeling in the calendar seemed fun and glamorous. I love dressing up and looking pretty as much as the next girl.
I was cast in the calendar and I set out to do some research about the charity. I wanted to know what my contribution would be. Through my research I discovered the national recognition Gina Elise has received since the start of her journey in 2006. To date, she has donated over $50,000 worth of rehabilitation equipment to different veterans hospitals around the country.
The organization has been featured on several news stations, print publications and has even been honored by Oprah Winfrey. Nine flags have been flown over bases in Iraq and Afghanistan in honor of the charity. Pin-Ups For Vets has also recently received congressional recognition.
After the 2014 calendar was released, this is when the pin-up madness began. I started working alongside Gina several times a week. I made myself available to her any chance I got. It was addicting and her personality and hunger to support the troops changed me.
Something inside of me clicked after assisting her during several hospital and base visits. I found a positive way to continue serving my country. Who knew that dressing like a 1940s pin-up girl and visiting hospitalized veterans and active duty troops could be so fun and rewarding? To me there is no better feeling then the looks of gratitude we get while giving gifts to these veterans at their bedsides. The simplicity of making someone smile in such a way taps into my emotions.
Everything I previously described is currently what I’m living. My days are filled with contentment and happiness because I know that I’m living the life I should be. Nothing short of working towards my ultimate goals in life, which is to better the world any way that I can. I have the same mentality as the day I enisted into the military. I’m alive and I’m able, so it ‘s my duty.
Working with Pin-Ups For Vets not only satisfies my needs of giving back to those who deserve it, but it’s also a learning experience. Gina Elise has let me freely act as a Pin-Ups For Vets Ambassador and assist her with journalism and public relations efforts. She is always there for me when I need to talk, and I’m proud to call her my friend.
So now I’m giving back to a cause I completely endorse, learning to become a better journalist while exposing myself to some of the most genuine and interesting people I have ever encountered. When I reflect on my 24 years of life, I’m amazed at where I stand today. I am one of the lucky ones.
I realize not everyone is born with the same warrior-type mentality that I was blessed with. Something I have learned the hard way is to never settle. Life is too valuable, short and beautiful to stray down an endless path of nothingness. We must recognize our potential to succeed and not be afraid to act on it. I have always known that there was a girl inside of me destined for something big.
I currently live in Los Angeles, go to college expense free at a California university, actively give back to the community and get to pursue the entertainment industry.
The Navy has given me every ounce of pride, happiness and positive thing that I have. I don’t fear change or the unknown. Every negative situation will shed light on something positive. The mind is so powerful that if you change your thoughts and outlook, your life will change. All of the pieces will suddenly just fit. There’s no time to worry about insignificant things or dwell on the past. Living a life ‘wishing’ or ‘hoping’ to accomplish goals is not living at all. When I want something bad enough I make it happen.
I have officially gone from a Petty Officer in the United States Navy to a Pin-Up For Vets Ambassador. There was something missing from my life before I started working with Pin-Ups For Vets. I encourage those who haven’t been active in the community to try it. You never know where the journey could take you.
My purpose in life is to motivate and help others. Putting a smile on a strangers face means the world to me. I’m thankful for being an American, having the support from the worlds best military, Gina Elise and my pin-up squad (you know who you are).
Here’s to a great future for a non-profit that I have confidence in. We will continue expanding and making a difference together. Thank you for taking me on. I salute you!