Once homeless, this Navy veteran hopes to be on the cover of Maxim

Matt Saintsing
November 01, 2018 - 5:50 pm

Photo Courtesy of Janae Sergio

Janae Sergio’s path to the Navy was anything but expected. Having been homeless since her sophomore year in high school, she was focused on daily survival, often eating ketchup packets. 

But today, the 36-year-old proud Navy veteran is competing to win money for homes for wounded veterans and homeless youth.

Sergio hopes to rise above the competition to be on the cover of Maxim Magazine in a contest that comes with a cool $25,000 for the winner, and a national stage to inspire the next generation of people who find themselves on tough times.  

“Living in survival mode, I didn’t really see much of a future for myself,” she tells Connecting Vets. 

That changed when a high-school friend of hers joined the Navy, who invited Sergio out with a recruiter. 

Photo Courtesy of Janae Sergio

Sergio says joining the military “wasn’t even on my radar."

"But I didn’t have any hope, so I figured to give this a try.”

She joined the Navy in 2000 without a high-school diploma with a waiver in the hopes she could graduate through her service. And she did, on the mess deck of the aircraft carrier, USS John C. Stennis off the coast of Pakistan while deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom. 

Like a scene from a movie, as al-Qaeda was being pounded from a barrage of coalition airpower, Sergio was taking the tests for her GED. 

Since leaving the military in 2008, she’s gone on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in business management using the GI Bill.

Currently, she lives in Hawaii and manages a $5 billion budget for ships, submarines and aviation maintenance of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. 

On the side, she’s gained an impressive following on Instagram promoting veteran owned-businesses.

As a mother of two, she was a little apprehensive when she saw Maxim’s competition online. But after seeing the power of the military and veteran community, she’s been able to rise above an impressive field of more than 30,000 and is heading towards the semi-finals. 

While your biggest concern in high school was who liked who and getting good enough grades to appease your parents, I was busy loading up my backpack to be shuffled from a drop in shelter to the nearest day shelter. While you threw spitballs at your buddies and planned for parties, I waited in line at @myfriendsplace to get a bag lunch and access to a computer to learn life skills. While you were scrambling to get into the most prestigious college, I was pleading with a recruiter to give me a waiver so I could enlist in the Navy and change my story... I struggled before I served in the Navy, but those 8 years of service have really helped me to transition into a purposeful life. And, thanks to all of you, I now have a platform to help others regain their footing in life. Thank you for your support, and hopefully when we win this @maximmag contest we can watch hundreds of wounded warriors be blessed with a much deserving roof over their heads. Unlike many of those beautiful women, I’m not doing the contest for personal gain. I have a successful career, but my life has purpose and my dream is to fulfill that purpose on the broadest spectrum possible. Thank you all for the unwavering support ----❤️---- . . . . . . . . . #homelessyouth #homelessness #fitmom #fitmilitarywomen #shecandoboth #curvesandcombatboots #bombshell #maximcovergirl #tattedmilitary #veteran #usnavy #cvn74 #hollywoodhighschool #cajonhighschool #losangelesyouthnetwork #myfriendsplace #bikinimodel #bodypositive @jah4ww

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She’s getting some serious support from the military and veteran community, and other women, like Gina Elise who is shoring up support for Sergio as the executive director of PinUpsForVets, a nonprofit that raises money to support VA hospitals. 

"I have been so lucky to work with the Veteran community and have met such incredible Veterans throughout the years,” Elise tells Connecting Vets. “The one thing that I constantly see within the Veteran community is the quality of resilience. I very much admire that trait.”

She was quickly drawn to Sergio’s story of perseverance.  “I thought it would be inspiring for others to see this female Navy veteran to be featured on the Maxim cover,” she adds. 

Sergio says she also hopes to set an example for young girls. 

“These girls, especially in today’s age, they’re seeing these perfect women on Instagram and social media that seem to be so perfect and have their lives together, and hopefully this will give them hope that they can do it too, whatever it is they want,” she says. 

Here’s how the competition works: Anyone with a Facebook account can vote once daily here. They also have “Warrior Votes,” where people can pay for additional votes with a proceed going towards Jared Allen's Homes for Wounded Warriors Foundation. 

If she wins, Sergio plans to donate portions of the prize cash to Hali Kipa, a non-profit organization that helps at-risk youth throughout Hawaii, and to the Fisher House Foundation, which builds homes for veterans and service members while a family member is in the hospital. 

She also hopes that winning will shine more of a spotlight on the Navy. 

“The Marines and Army always get the accolades when it comes to being a badass in combat boots kind of girl,” says Sergio. “The Navy doesn’t really get that because our uniform isn’t tactical looking, so I think people would like to see a Navy girl on there.” 

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