USMC vet Annika Hutsler transforms into a pinup model after leg amputation: ‘Life doesn’t end after tragedy’

Annika Hutsler, whose leg was amputated in 2019, was stunned when she saw herself transformed into a ‘40s glamour girl for the first time.

The USMC veteran is Miss November 2023 in the 17th annual Pin-Ups for Vets calendar. The award-winning nonprofit, founded in 2006 by California resident Gina Elise, raises funding to support hospitalized and deployed troops. It famously produces WWII-inspired bombshell calendars featuring veterans as models.

“I was in awe,” Hutsler, who is based in California, told Fox News Digital. “I model, so I’ve seen what I look like on-camera. But with the hair, makeup and dresses, I looked like someone from that era… I just remembered walking in [on set] and seeing all the dresses ready. The music from that era was playing. It was just a really fun experience to get dolled up in that way.”

And the 26-year-old got a special seal of approval.


“My grandpa served in the Vietnam and Korean Wars,” she shared. “He saw the photos and awestruck would be the best word to describe his reaction. It just reminded him of back when he was overseas.”

Since its launch, Pin-Ups for Vets has donated over $100,000 to help hospitals purchase new rehabilitation equipment and provide financial assistance for veterans’ health care program expansions across the country. During the height of the pandemic, Pin-Ups for Vets shipped care packages filled with gifts of appreciation to hospitalized veterans. It continues to mail morale-boosting care packages to deployed U.S. troops around the globe.

“If you look back at the history of what pinups were, it’s women feeling like they were part of the war effort,” Hutsler explained. “It’s coming back around now because everybody on the calendar is a veteran. And this is our way to pay tribute to those women who participated in the war effort before us. Not only are these calendars good for morale, but Gina is demonstrating the importance of giving back to those who are trying to find their way in the civilian world now.”

Hutsler said she “was very lost in life” before she enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2017. At the time, she was in her senior year of college about to get her bachelor’s degree when she realized it wasn’t a career path she wanted to pursue for the rest of her life. With some encouragement from friends, she reached out to recruiters and instantly found herself “at home.”


“I ended up talking to recruiters from every single branch,” she recalled. “I remember going into the Marine Corps office and being told, ‘You belong here.’ I just felt welcomed. From the minute I walked into that office, I just knew this is what I wanted to do. And the pride that comes with it – it meant a lot for me to enlist. I know it was a really big deal for my family.”

But halfway through boot camp, Hutsler realized something was wrong. Her right foot was swollen. And the lingering pain worsened. Her drill instructor insisted it was just the result of the no-nonsense training.

“I adopted the mindset of, ‘I’m just being weak. I’m being overdramatic. It hurts, but it’s eventually going to get better,’” said Hutsler. “But it never did get better. When I was in combat training, I was taking Advil like candy. I couldn’t even walk down the street without being in pain. I had to take some sort of pain relief just for my everyday life. It was beyond the physical exercise at that point… I just couldn’t keep up with the group.”

It wouldn’t be until Feb. 1, 2018, when Hutsler learned she had an intramuscular arteriovenous vascular tumor. For the next 14 months, doctors attempted to save her foot.


“It was really hard to work,” said Hutsler. “I was getting sent to different military medical centers. I got sent to Texas for a little bit to try one of their programs… they were trying to save my foot for as long as they could. But with every surgery, every procedure, every new device, I was in more pain. I was becoming less active. I was falling deeper and deeper into depression. And I was just frustrated overall. At 21-22 years old, I couldn’t even do the basic things I’ve been doing my entire life because of this tumor.”

Surgeries failed and medical complications arose. Hutsler also became prone to infections.

“I remember I asked my doctor, ‘How long are we going to do this until I’m going to need an amputation?’” said Hutsler. “It’s not a choice anymore. And my doctor said, ‘I guess about five to ten years.’ I said, ‘Cut it off now because I’m not waiting. I’m not wasting the next five to ten years of my life, of my 20s waiting for something that’s going to be inevitable.’ She didn’t like that answer. So I did have to continue to fight and go through all my options until I finally had a doctor agree that amputation was the best choice. But it was a very long process to get there.”

On April 2, 2019, Hutsler’s leg was amputated 17 centimeters below the knee. She described her recovery as surprisingly “easy.”


“I know that’s not always the case for other people,” she emphasized. “But… I wanted to dance again. Snowboard again. I got fitted for my first prosthetic leg at five weeks post-amputation, which is unheard of. But I was up and already learning how to walk again. I was able to represent the Marine Corps in the 2019 Warrior Games eight weeks post-amputation. I just think being very active in having those goals and keeping that positive outlook really helped with my recovery. Having that end goal makes you work harder to get there. Of course, you can’t control how fast you end up healing. But I really did everything exactly how the doctor wanted so that I could heal the best that I possibly could.”

“With my prosthetic leg, I can do so many things now,” she continued. “I can run, I can snowboard, I can do gymnastics. I couldn’t even think about those things before. And luckily, because of the internet, I was able to reach out to a lot of other amputees who were incredibly supportive of my journey… I had a foot that didn’t work well, so no, I don’t regret it.”

Hutsler hasn’t let a disability stop her from pursuing her dreams. The celebrated athlete just returned from the 2022 Warrior Games, competing in six different sports and bringing in 10 medals. Her goal is to compete in the 2026 Paralympic Games. She still competes in the Wounded Warrior Battalion and is trying to make it to the 2023 Team USA team for Invictus Games, which was founded by Prince Harry.

“Sports keeps me healthy not only physically, but mentally,” she said. “When you’re in those dark places, you need to find an outlet. And for me, that outlet was always sports. It makes you feel better. It gave me something to work toward too. It brought me out of my barracks room. It brought me around other people who were struggling.”


But the battle, she said, isn’t over.

“I feel like a lot of people talk about how lucky we are, and that kind of negates the fact of how hard I had to work,” Hutsler reflected. “Don’t get me wrong, I am fortunate they found my tumor while I was in the service. I’m fortunate I’m able to get the health care that I have. But at the same time, I had to completely alter my life. It hasn’t been an easy process. I worked so hard to get to where I am now. And I think people don’t always see that because they just see the end result… I still have to fight for my health care. I still have to fight for getting better.”

Hutsler retired from active duty in January 2020. She continues to chronicle her journey on social media. But today, she hopes her new photos will raise awareness of veterans in need.

“It’s always important to recognize our veterans, recognize our service members,” she said. “We are the people that raise our hand and sign on the dotted line to protect and serve our country, no matter what… There are still people out there who love this country so much that they will risk their lives to make sure that we continue to be the best America that we can be.”

And for Hutsler, “life doesn’t end after tragedy.”

“Maybe your plan A didn’t work out,” she said. “Maybe your plan B didn’t work out. Heck, maybe even your plan G didn’t work out. But it’s OK if things don’t work out because you can make a new plan. You can strive to be better and strive to make a good life. And sometimes, that life ends up being better than you ever thought it could be.”


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