TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – An Army veteran and current Mrs. Tampa America is featured in a nonprofit’s “pin-up” inspired calendar to raise funds for veterans and veterans’ hospitals across the United States.
Bliven Roman served as a medic in the Army, enlisting in the service after she graduated high school. Her father was in the military for 30 years, and Roman said she was inspired by him and other veterans from wars past before making her decision to join the Army.
“I was in love with the Navy veterans and the Navy nurses of World War II, to be exact. Their beauty and their courage really inspired me to be in the military and it really made me want to be a part of Pin-Ups for Vets,” Roman said.
Roman was part of the 1-63 Combined Arms Battalion out of Ft. Riley, Kansas, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. She was one of the first women to be part of the unit and the first woman medic to be attached to one of their infantry line units.
“I was attached to the forward observers. I was their medic and I was the only female, which was really crazy, having to do exactly what they did, no excuses, having to put that big ruck [sack] on and do this exact same thing but just 5’3″ tiny me,” she said.
Roman explained she served at a time where women weren’t integrated into combat arms positions. She said she feels like she broke glass ceilings for all women.
“…even if that only meant just being little ol’ me and that tiny unit that maybe no one has ever heard about it. [It] was still a huge deal. At the end of the day, maybe they won’t remember who I was in 20 years or even know that I was the first female medic, but I remember that, and that’s something [for] my kids to remember,” Roman said.
To this day, Roman said she still gets messages at 2 a.m. from those she served with asking her medical questions. She said she loves it, even when she gets pictures of cuts and asked if something requires stitches or looks infected.
“It is that feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood, that camaraderie that [is] really hard to replace outside of the military, and just to know that there’s people who still think of me as ‘Doc’ and still call me ‘Doc,’ it really it makes me feel good about not just who I am, but who I was in the military,” she said.
She first heard about the nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets in 2016 after searching for “military nonprofits for women.”
“I’ve always loved pin-up culture. I love those World War II nurses, and it was just perfect for me,” Roman said.
Roman was asked over the years to submit an application to be in the nonprofit’s annual calendar, featuring 12 women veterans from around the country. She said between being a full-time student to the coronavirus pandemic, there was just never a great time for her to participate.
That is, until this year, when she told herself if she didn’t do it now, “I’m never going to do it.”
She was selected to be featured in the calendar and received help from the Mrs. Florida American organization and Girls Meetup Orlando to fund her trip to California for the photoshoot. Roman said her husband, also a former Army medic who she served with, took time off to fly out with her.
She called the photoshoot experience “insane.”
“I thought being Mrs. Tampa made me feel like a celebrity, but walking into that set was crazy… it was hair, makeup, news reporters,” she said. “People all wanted to know who you were and what have you done, what was your military experience like. I really felt like a celebrity. They treated us like queens. It was incredible.”
The importance of inspiring other women veterans is not lost on her.
“I think it’s really incredible to show other women veterans that you can be tough, but you can also be very graceful at the same time. The military stripped that femininity away from us and I’m here to show women that you can do both proudly,” she said.
Pin-Ups for Vets donates funds raised from the calendar to VA and military hospitals nationwide, including right here in Tampa, at the James A. Haley VA Hospital. To date, they have donated more than $90,000 worth of rehabilitation equipment across the country.
Calendars are also given as gifts to ill and injured veterans, with messages of appreciation from donors, and sent to deployed troops.
Next year, Roman will compete for the Mrs. Florida America pageant. She would be the first veteran to wear the crown if she wins.
She uses her platform to raise awareness for military mental health, speaking about her own journey.
“I’ve struggled with suicide and I share my story to – one, raise awareness and two, bring hope to our veterans who feel so lost,” she said. “I felt so alone in my own fight, but knowing that there was someone who experienced the same thing as me made the world of a difference, and I hope to be that person for other veterans through the Florida America organization.”
The 2022 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar is available online, alongside other merchandise such as bumper stickers, patches and artwork.