Student veteran unveils her voyage

Kelli+Serio%2C+25%2C+U.S.+Navy+Veteran%2C+followed+the+steps+of+her+family+when+she+decided+to+join+the+Navy.+Despite+running+into+dangerous+situations+while+serving+she+has+learned+many+life+lessons.+Photo+Credit%3A+Rasta+Ghafouri%2F+The+Sundial
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Student veteran unveils her voyage

Kelli Serio, 25, U.S. Navy Veteran, followed the steps of her family when she decided to join the Navy. Despite running into dangerous situations while serving she has learned many life lessons. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial

Kelli Serio, 25, U.S. Navy Veteran, followed the steps of her family when she decided to join the Navy. Despite running into dangerous situations while serving she has learned many life lessons. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial

Kelli Serio, 25, U.S. Navy Veteran, followed the steps of her family when she decided to join the Navy. Despite running into dangerous situations while serving she has learned many life lessons. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial

Kelli Serio, 25, U.S. Navy Veteran, followed the steps of her family when she decided to join the Navy. Despite running into dangerous situations while serving she has learned many life lessons. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial

Leah Arzu

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Kelli Serio, 25, U.S. Navy Veteran, followed the steps of her family when she decided to join the Navy. Despite running into dangerous situations while serving she has learned many life lessons. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial

Kelli Serio, 25, U.S. Navy Veteran, followed the steps of her family when she decided to join the Navy. Despite running into dangerous situations while serving she has learned many life lessons. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial

After returning from deployment and finishing her service in the Navy Kelli Serio, 25, has taken on writing her experiences into a blog and website. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial

After returning from deployment and finishing her service in the Navy Kelli Serio, 25, has taken on writing her experiences into a blog and website. Photo Credit: Rasta Ghafouri/ The Sundial


Veterans Day is a time to reflect and be grateful for the sacrifices of the men and women who have and continue to fight for this country’s freedom.

It is a time to acknowledge the strides we’ve made and remember those who’ve fallen, but whose memory and sacrifices are never forgotten.

Service often stems from one’s faith and pride in their country. For them, the Pledge of Allegiance has a deeper meaning. It was this pride that drew U.S. Navy veteran and CSUN journalism major Kelli Serio, 25, to serve.

Little did she know her service would change the way she viewed the system she vowed her loyalty to.

Serio said her respect and appreciation for the military is in her blood. The granddaughter of a World War II veteran, Serio says her patriotic family and conservative upbringing influenced her decision to join the military.

Another motivating factor for the Oklahoma native was the chance to see the world.

“I went through one year of college after high school, but could never get far enough away from where I was,” she said. “I was always curious.”

Her curiosity was further sparked when she saw a local advertisement for the Navy while driving one day.

“I called my mom and told her ‘I think I know what would make me happy’,” she said.

Even with her family’s military ties, her plan to enlist was met with uneasiness and pleading from her family.

“I was really shocked because I didn’t expect it,” Kimberly Jones said about her daughter wanting to enlist. “I was excited for her, but nervous and concerned for her safety.”

These fears were justified as Serio may have been affected by radiation during what she calls her “final and most personally sacrificing deployment” in Japan.

But that didn’t stop the self-proclaimed “thrill seeker and adrenaline junkie,” and it fueled her desire to join. So at 18, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and was assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

“I remember stepping off the plane and seeing palm trees, and I was like, ‘this is it’,” Serio said.

The small town girl felt like she’d come up; but all of the travel wasn’t as glamorous as she and other shipmates might have thought it would be. The multiple deployments and time away from family took a toll.

On top of being homesick, she faced challenges as a female within the masculine charged military.

“As a female in a man’s world like that, we always have to prove ourselves, and that we can work alongside men and get the job done like we’re supposed to,” said Serio.

And prove it she did. She worked her way up from janitor to master helmsman a year into her tour. The new title qualified her to operate the ship during “special evolutions,” which included port visits and transferring fuel between ships.

This was an honor not only because she was one of 10 chosen among a crew of 5,000, but because she was part of a program with a history of being run by men.

“I think, at one point, half of the 10 were female,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how women are coming in and kind of taking over a lot of the duties that were once primarily for males.”

She completed her tour in January 2012 as a petty officer 3rd class.

During her tour, Serio went out on multiple deployments, including Operation Enduring Freedom in 2009 to Iraq and Afghanistan, and Operation Tomodachi to Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

During Operation Tomodachi Serio’s unit was deployed off Japan’s coast to act as first responders to earthquake victims and to assist with the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

While there, her carrier acted as a floating fuel station for the Japanese military and coast guard helicopters, until a radioactive plume from Fukushima’s nuclear plant forced the vessel to relocate.

Unfortunately, the move came too late for the 17 crewmembers of three helicopter crews that had already been contaminated.

Her family’s concerns had proved valid.

Serio said she’ll never forget the day her captain said their water filtration system had been compromised and advised the crewmembers not to shower or drink any water until cleared.

“When I found out she was on that ship in Fukushima, I was in a panic for a while,” Jones said.

With no way for Serio’s family to reach her on the ship, all they could do was wait for her email telling them that she was alright.

“There were conflicting reports which fueled the nervousness,” Jones said. “Some reports would say radiation tests among the crew came back negative, others said positive.”

By the end of 2013 more than 70 men and women had reported suffering from Fukushima radiation sickness. A Navy Times article shed light on the increase of cases, but the real number of those contaminated is still unknown because symptoms can take years to appear.

“I feel like we were done so wrong,” Serio said. “We were drinking the water.”

Serio said she and the other 70,000 first responders have been dismissed by the government as if nothing happened out there.

She wants justice and has joined a class-action suit against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) for its failure to recognize and support those first responders experiencing side effects as a result of exposure.

Although she admits that she’s fearful of one day finding out the radiation has affected her, she’s letting the unknown fuel her passion for life outside of the military.

Serio moved to Los Angeles in early 2012 and became a Matador that fall.

When asked what lessons carried over from service, she says organization and efficiency are probably two of the biggest things.

Serio’s team-like mentality has also led to her modeling with organizations like Pin-Ups for Vets, which issues an annual calendar of female veterans posing as Pin-Ups to help bring up the morale of veterans and current soldiers.

In addition to posing for the calendar, models bring awareness to the men and women who’ve served their country through speaking engagements and visiting patients at veteran hospitals around the country.

She’s also involved with Team Rubicon, which is a veterans first foundation for natural disaster relief, a cause that’s very personal for Serio.

It was at a Team Rubicon event earlier this year that she met her friend and mentor, Fox News reporter Hollie McKay.

McKay said her first impression of Serio was someone with a good head on her shoulders and a fresh approach to the world around her.

“She’s just a very courageous and confident young woman that seemed very determined to achieve her goals and make her mark,” said McKay.

It was this tenacity that prompted McKay to recommend Serio for a reporter position at the conservative and opinion website, Breitbart.

The successful partnership has led to Serio writing dozens of pieces for the site, in addition to her own blog. Her first piece for the website was a first-hand account of and a look back at Operation Tomodachi.

Although she’s enjoyed navigating the freedom of civilian life, the Navy is still a part of her.

“To this day, I miss it,” she said. “Sometimes I want to go back.”

Her dedication and commitment to serve didn’t end the day she walked off that base in San Diego. She’s still fighting for our rights; she’s just doing it through a different carrier.

To find out more about Kelli Serio follow her on Twitter @KelliSerio