There's a common thread that binds an Iraq War double amputee; a discontent former member of The Old Guard's Presidential Salute Battery; a military child suffering from a medical condition; and approximately 30 other military-affiliated people who are reaching their potential one photo shoot at a time.
They are members of a D.C.-metro based veteran-owned, all-veteran modeling and talent agency, the brain child of agency founder/managing partner U.S. Army Maj. Jas Boothe, who is stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia.
A career Soldier, Boothe is no stranger to seeing a need among the veteran population and stepping in to support veteran causes.
In 2010, Boothe founded a non-profit to assist homeless women veterans. Her efforts resulted in providing hundreds of women and children homes; it also gave Boothe national media attention from the likes of Oprah Winfrey--she was dubbed a "community crusader" by CNN, Live! with Kelly and Michael, Fox and Friends, among a list of other media outlets and influencers.
In late 2015, she saw another need, this time in the National Capital Region and decided to start a new venture: a veteran owned, veteran focused modeling and talent agency.
"I truly bleed red, white and blue and [this] is for those who want to go from the flight line to the fashion week," Boothe said. "I teach current service members and vets their legitimacy lies in what they bring to the table. A DD 214 isn't enough in a down economy. You need a great resume, marketable skills, presentation, and confidence."
Boothe's agency promotes the motto, "Heroes come in all shapes and sizes." Accordingly, there is a diversified roster of models: traditional male and female fashion models, a physique (fitness) category for men, a plus size (full-figured) category for women and a children's' division.
Model Girard Berry separated from the U.S. Army as a specialist in August 2015, after serving for three years in The Old Guard's Presidential Salute Battery at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. He said he always knew he wanted to be a model and eventually become an actor and entertainer.
"Participating in ceremonies for the president and generals of all branches at the Pentagon, the White House and for foreign dignitaries--[yet] I still didn't have fulfillment in my life," he said.
"I wasn't content with just being a Soldier. I separated and took a leap of faith…and walked in my first runway show during District of Columbia Fashion Week in February. I'll be heading to L.A. Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week later as well."
Assisting Berry with his new found modeling endeavor is Boothe, who is helping him build his confidence, Berry said.
"You have to define your niche; modeling is not for everyone, and you have to be prepared to grind, whether it's fashion, runway, print or commercial modeling," Berry said. "The military taught me discipline, the importance of arriving early, and to always carry myself in a professional manner which is conducive in a career that's subjective. Life gives us all variables, and this…is a place where we all share our connections to producers, designers, and others who help us build our brand."
Also building her brand is 31-year-old Marissa Strock, a double amputee and former U.S. Army military police officer who was severely injured by a bomb during a convoy in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005. An aspiring comedian and former Ms. Veteran America pageant contestant and host, Strock said she is learning never to take a day for granted.
"The military taught me bravery, and how to take calculated risks," said Strock, who told the Pentagram the agency is assisting her rebuild her confidence and redefine her life plan.
"I'm a Soldier who was severely injured and spent more time in Walter Reed Army Medical Center than I did in the military, recovering from my injuries," Strock said. "But there were two others in my vehicle who died from their injuries, and for me not to move forward, would be disrespectful to these Soldiers' memory. I'm also determined to persevere in the face of the terrorists who intended to kill me."
Strock told the Pentagram she believes not living to her full potential would be giving the terrorists who intended to kill her what they wanted. Multi-faceted stories of survival and refining success is pertinent to Boothe's efforts.
"This is a multi-purpose platform for veterans who want to go to the next level," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Miranda Drummond, who is a chef for general officers at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling by day, and a photographer by night. "Whatever their aspirations. If they want to act, sing, or stay in modeling, we're providing the resources to get these people there."
"More veterans and active duty members should get into the mindset to try something new," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michelle Beasley, an active duty Soldiers stationed at Fort Belvoir Army installation.
Sentiments echoed by U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Ashby, an active duty medic stationed at Joint Base Langley--Eustis, who said he was lured to the agency in an effort to build social capital and strengthen his professional network before he transitions out of the military, whenever that may be.
"We all have the same work ethic, values and genuinely want to see each other succeed, as opposed to working with a non-veterans, where there's perceived support and genuine competition," said Ashby. "We're empowered here to be current, relevant and important and it reminds us that individually and collectively we have so much to offer. This is networking."
Next generation of models
Few children and teens are afforded the opportunity that military life offers--the constant relocation to a new state or country--and the stressors associated with them. Boothe recognized the need to include a children's and teens' division within her agency.
Lynn Peterson is a retirement program manager for the Department of the Army, whose 15-year-old daughter, Skylar, was one of the first to join the roster.
"This is a trustworthy agency with a military affiliated-commonality," Peterson said. "And that commonality makes for a good bonding experience, especially amongst the kids. And when you look at the bigger picture, how many modeling agencies would even consider models that weren't a size zero, or a double amputee? This is an all-inclusive family."
"When I model, it gives me a boost of confidence, it's empowering," the younger Peterson said. "I've made a lot of friends here, and we all accept each other's flaws. Flaws are what make us each unique."
"Everyone is different it's important not to allow others to define you," said fellow teen model Annikalake Dotte, who flew from Oklahoma to D.C. with her mother for an opportunity to participate in the agency's recent casting call.
"My daughter is fearless, so she keeps me very busy" added Annikalake's mom, Jeneal, a fearlessness that binds the current roster of models together.
"We envision [this agency] producing the first supermodel with a DD 214," Boothe added. "We also want to establish the first Veteran Fashion Week, a grand display of veterans turned runway slayers…My story has led to many blessings; proof that everything happens for a reason, even the bad things."