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Some wounded war veterans, above all else, just want to feel normal again.
And when photographer Michael Stokes, 52, gets down to business, they do. That's because Michael doesn't shoot traditional solemn photos, posing amputee soldiers looking grave in their uniforms and prosthetics.
Instead, the Los Angeles, California, resident spotlights these men and women in all their naked and nearly-naked glory with sexy, confident shoots that certainly say: 'I've still got it.'
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Take a picture: Los Angeles-based photographer Michael Stokes photographs wounded veterans like BT Urruela (pictured) for his photo series
In camo: BT (pictured before his injury), like all the vets Michael photographed, fought in the Middle East with the US military
Brave guys: Michael said that he talked to vets like Redmond Ramos (pictured) first, to make them comfortable
Spotight: The 52-year-old photographer said that he doesn't restore confidence for the veterans he shoots (like this Sgt Bryan Anderson, pictured before and after his inury) - they come to him already confident
Michael started the project unintentionally in 2012 when he photographed 26-year-old U.S. Marine Alex Minsky, a Purple Heart recipient who lost part of his leg when his truck ran over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
Alex had sustained multiple injuries in the incident - including a broken jaw and traumatic brain injury - and suffered from depression and alcoholism when he came home. But after pulling himself out of those dark times, he started bulking up again at the gym - and eventually earned the attention of Michael, who asked to photograph him.
Instead of looking grim or sad in a wheelchair, Alex posed confidently for Michael, showing off his bulging muscles and colorful tattoos in shirtless photos.
'I wanted to approach it carefully,' Michael told Daily Mail Online. 'I was a fitness photographer who had an erotic edge to his images, and I wanted to shoot Alex the same way. But I didn't want him to be in the position where he could be embarrassed.
'But he was strong, he was solid,' Michael continued. 'So I thought, I'm gonna basically shoot him as if he's not an amputee.'
'If it wasn't for Daily Mail, it would have been another year [before the project progressed],' he explained. 'Within a few hours of the piece being posted, I got calls from Good Morning America, the Today show. Big media. And all of a sudden they all wanted him.'
Serving their country: The US veterans have all lost limbs - sometimes more than one - in the wars in the Middle East
Military men: Subjects of the photo series previously served in the US Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines
Fighting props: Some of the subjects pose with guns, and a few wear their dog tags around their necks
Gaining clientele: After shots of Michael's first subject, Alex, went viral, other veterans approached him to participate in similar shoots
Putting it all out there: None of the pictures are somber - instead, the veteran look sexy, strong, and confident
Now, when Michael contacts members of the veteran community with a request to shoot them, 'chances are that veteran already knows me'.
He then meets with them beforehand, getting to know them and giving them an opportunity to get comfortable before getting in front of the camera: 'Usually I spend quite a bit of time with them first, so I've never really sensed a lot of nervousness.'
The vets pose for Michael with and without their prosthetic arms and legs, sometimes holding guns or wearing their dog tags. A few shed all of their clothes, while others left more to the imagination. But what they all have in common is that they look strong, self-assured - and hot.
'Some people will say to me "Oh, this is really helpful to their self-esteem," or, "You’re making them feel like men again,"' he told MTV News. '[But] these guys have come to me very healed and ready to take the world on. I’m not giving them back their confidence. They already have it.'
Michael said that while most of the men he shoots are excited to see the pictures, there are occasionally some who are reluctant to publish them.
'I had one vet who was very severely injured and he had to take some time to sit on them before publishing them. He said he just wasn't used to seeing himself like that,' he told Daily Mail Online. But after two weeks, the vet gave Michael the OK - and was glad that he did.
'He was shocked by the response - people telling him how sexy he was, how beautiful he was, that he's a hero. He was genuinely shocked and surprised,' he said.
Beginnings: Michael started the photo series with 26-year-old U.S. Marine Alex Minsky (pictured), a Purple Heart recipient
They've got personality: Redmond (pictured) dressed up his prosthetic leg with an American flag pattern - and showed it off in several of the photographs
Some of the veterans that Michael shot posed in with props and complicated backgrounds, while others (like the one pictured), stood or sat in front of simple sets
Popular idea: Michael launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish his latest collection of photos and met his goal in two days
Michael has now published a photography book featuring some of the stunning images called Bare Strength, which is available on Amazon. There is also a 2016 wall calendar including the images from Bare Strength.
A Kickstarter campaign for a third coffee table book, Always Loyal, reached its $48,250 funding goal in just two days, and has now raised over $202,000.While his first two books focused on male veterans, Always Loyal will also showcase women who've served their country.
Michael said that he believes that the reason people have responded so positively to the photos is because they focus less on the lost limbs and more on the person's attractiveness.
'I think people notice that they are looking at a beautiful man or woman first, and then they notice that they are amputees,' he said. 'I think they don't notice the amputation right away.'
Of course, as nice as they are to look at, these pictures also go deeper than the average sexy calendar shots.
'You see veterans either in a coffin or coming back able-bodies,' Michael said. 'These kinds of intimate photos show an aspect of vet life that people have not been exposed to. It's a visible reminder of the price that the country has paid.'
Taking it off: Michael photographs the veterans with and without their prosthetic limbs - and with and without clothing
Calendar models: Bare Strength is also available as a calendar for the 2016 year and can be purchased on Amazon
Community man: Michael said that when he contacts wounded vets like Mary Dague (pictured), they often already know who he is - thanks in part to the Daily Mail Online article that helped his project get attention in 2013
Publishing the pics: Michael's upcoming coffee table book, Always Loyal, will feature women as well as men