Sharing What Matters
Olivia Nunn is a U.S. Army Officer, communications pro and mental health advocate.
Content Note: The following story mentions suicidal thoughts.
It’s rare to meet a U.S. Army Officer who is also a pageant queen. Olivia Nunn is rare. She’s also Ms. Virginia Petite 2023.
Olivia entered pageantry with others in mind. Joining the Army also had nothing to do with individual recognition.
“Many of us joined the military because we wanted to be part of something bigger and better than ourselves. The Army taught me how to be disciplined, focused. How to be part of a team. The first thing the Army strips away is “I”, and you are a part of a collective. It’s about we. And you place that we before me.”
While the Army and pageantry are communal, each presents opportunity for deep personal growth. Pageantry is bringing Olivia a new kind of strength and, most importantly, a wider audience to witness her powerful story.
“What I like about going to these events wearing a crown and sash is that people come up to me and ask me about it. So I get the opportunity to have a conversation about my platform.”
By day, Olivia founded and operates Olivia Nunn Communications, her own PR business. As an entrepreneur with two children, two decades of Army service including multiple tours in Iraq, and now, a crown to her name, Olivia’s mission, much like Olivia, is ever-growing yet remains sharp and steady.
Speaking the hardest truth
Olivia’s platform, her purpose, is mental health advocacy. Everything else is a means to amplify this platform.
“For me, that’s really what pageantry is about. Shedding light on the fact that there are not enough mental health resources for the military community.”
Olivia went to combat three times and, in her own words, came close to dying more than once.
While on active duty Olivia planned her own suicide. Then, Olivia faced yet another trying, pivotal moment: Transitioning back to civilian life. From Officer, back to Olivia—while also navigating an unexpected divorce.
“I had a hard time asking for help. Many of us in the military community are type A, aggressive, hard chargers, very strong personalities. So asking for help is really hard for us. When I finally did ask for help—I started going through my resources and they couldn’t help me. The answer was, ‘Olivia, maybe six months, but really best case, in a year. We might be able to help you in a year.’ I didn’t know if I had six days left in me. I really wanted to end it all.”
Moving through the darkness
Olivia now creates resources for individuals and grows support for the organizations she desperately needed and could not rely on—in her darkest moments. She’s raising awareness by starting hard conversations about soldier suicide and sharing her story of struggle and difficulty transitioning.
“Transition becomes transformation. You lose an identity that’s a way of life, whether it’s been four years or 30 years in the military. It’s a different culture, moving from the military mindset to a civilian structure.”
For Olivia, imposter syndrome became, and still is, a challenge.
“When you no longer have [your rank] and you’re trying to figure out who you are, there’s imposter syndrome. Am I capable? Am I confident enough? Is this where I’m supposed to be?”
After retiring from the Army, Olivia worked on a government contract with a National Geospatial-Intelligence agency before launching her own company providing public relations, brand management, and social media management services.
“I was a communicator in the Army so transitioning to that in the civilian sector was easy, but that transition is not easy for everybody. If you were a tanker, there’s no tank position in the civilian sector. So the hardest part of my transition was definitely identity loss and imposter syndrome. Overcoming imposter syndrome is an ongoing challenge. It’s a daily thing, a lot of affirmations. It’s your friends, your loved ones. It’s looking at yourself in the mirror, and it’s also overcoming your own individual goals. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you can do it. It’s shutting off that noise in your head because you are the one that puts the most pressure on yourself. Really no one else. It’s learning to quiet that noise.”
Being the light
Hearing about her experiences, it’s clear that one thing Olivia has never lacked is courage.
“As scary as it is, just getting on-stage in a two-piece swimsuit, I have learned confidence in ways I could not have imagined. I still think deployment is not as scary, as crazy as that sounds, sometimes, as getting on that stage.”
When asked how her Army experience feeds her entrepreneurial journey, Olivia shared, “As a United States Army Officer you learn to put the mission first. Integrity, duty, selfless service, focus, drive—and that all slides right into business. Is it easy to create a business? Sure. But is it hard to drive that business? Absolutely.”
To other veterans considering starting a business, Olivia encourages building your network, your connections, your community—while you’re still in service. And once you’ve exited, tap fellow veteran entrepreneurs for advice. “Your network is your net worth,” she emphasizes. The people Olivia surrounded herself with post-Army became a crucial, positive force, encouraging her to bet on herself and build Olivia Nunn Communications.
Outside of her client work, Olivia is shining light on a massive problem. Suicide currently claims 44 active duty military lives every day. A number that’s hard to see and even harder to ignore once you’re aware of what’s at stake. While sharing her story is never easy, Olivia knows all too well what’s at stake, and that her story is part of something bigger.
“I believe that when I share my story, it gives breath for somebody else to have courage to share theirs. I’ve detailed my story in multiple podcasts, I share any chance I get because truly, we are not going to get anywhere in driving soldier suicide down to zero unless we are open and we talk about it. As vulnerable as it makes me, I truly believe sharing our stories is the only way to effectively create positive change for our community.”
To anyone struggling with mental health, active duty in the military or otherwise, Olivia invites you to reach out to her directly: [email protected]