Meet the MIGHTY 25: America’s extraordinary changemakers and advocates of 2023
Since 2014, We Are The Mighty has selected the best of the best for our MIGHTY 25 list and 2023 is no exception. This was a year of change, strong advocacy and undeniable courage. With endless challenges to force readiness, resource shifting and need — the MIGHTY 25 of 2023 answered the call to better the military community.
The WATM editorial team recognizes people working in the active duty, veteran and military family space in partnership with the Military Influencer Conference. Those selected started from a list of over 100 individuals who are all exceptional at what they do. An internal panel deliberates for months to determine those who make it to the list.
Late Congressman and Civil Rights activist John Lewis once encouraged us all to "make good trouble," and those on this year’s list certainly did. This year's awardees used their voices to affect policy change, improve resources, and save lives. These 25 men and women demonstrate everything it means to be MIGHTY.
Meet your MIGHTY 25 for 2023:
The fearless founders of We Are The Mighty created a military lifestyle brand to rival anything else in digital media. Each founder took their skills in movie production, television, communications, marketing and capital investment to build a veteran and military spouse-run mission to tell stories. We Are The Mighty is the premier media brand for the 133 million “mega-niche” community of America’s military, veterans, and their families. WATM’s veteran creators capture this community’s voice with original, multi-platform media, branded campaigns, and high-profile events. WATM is committed to making a positive impact in the community we serve. WATM's unique insights, guidance, and experience provide distinct value to brands, businesses, and anyone looking to authentically connect with our nation’s military-veteran community.
2. Ruben Ayala
This Green Beret veteran dedicated his life to serving this country and built a veteran-owned apparel-inclusive brand. When the pandemic caused him to close the door on his thriving business, he used the time to band together with three other Army veterans. Triple Nikel pays homage to the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment stood up in 1943 during segregation. Known as the "Triple Nickels", their mission was to neutralize forest fires through airborne insertions.
When this Army spouse discovered families were hungry and experiencing significant food insecurity at her base, she decided to be part of the solution. Bassett created a food pantry that offered dignity and support to Army families, which led to her creating Stronghold Food Pantry, a nonprofit. Now, Bassett serves military families all over the globe with food and necessities.
An Air Force veteran spouse, Boccher has spent the last decade advocating for Exceptional Family Member Program families, military spouse employment and finding your identity after transition from the military. For the past six years, Boccher has used her platform within her corporate role to support military and veteran-run initiatives serving the military space.
When this bad-ass Marine veteran was medically separated from the service, he struggled to find his way. He picked up a pen and paper and discovered a passion for storytelling, which led to a nonprofit news organization. With a focus for telling the whole truth on military-related issues and advocating for policy change, The War Horse has created an extraordinary space for change.
6. Iasia Brown
From being an airman to earning her Eagle, Globe and Anchor, this veteran Marine now uses her platform at Microsoft to employ other veterans. If she isn’t busy enough in her role as a producer for Xbox, Brown runs a nonprofit that offers scholarships to at-risk women looking to break into tech. The epitome of the saying, "A rising tide raises all boats," as her stature climbs, Brown has devoted her life to bringing people up with her.
After experiencing one of our nation's worst terrorist attacks, leading troops through wartime for almost the entirety of his time in the White House, and weathering a financial crisis, President George W. Bush deserved a rest after turning over his presidency. But instead of retiring from service, this former president used his platform to build an organization devoted to caring for America’s warriors. From Portraits of Courage to the Bush Institute, he continues to give back to those he sees as his personal heroes.
She spent her college years devoted to researching women’s issues and preventing violence. After years of advocacy, commitment and service to the White House, Crockett and Navy spouse Libby Jamison came together to champion the extraordinary Executive Order on Advancing Economic Security for Military and Veteran Spouses, Military Caregivers, and Survivors, targeting military spouse employment and economic empowerment, As a director within the National Security Council, Crockett's passion for military families contributing to force readiness shines through in all of the policy work she’s fought for.
From a lawyer for the Clinton Administration to becoming a Marine spouse, Douquet saw a gap in support for the military family when the Global War on Terror began. With her experiences as a spouse coupled with her knowledge of law, she co-founded Blue Star Families. Over a decade later, BSF boasts over 250,000 members and endless programs dedicated to supporting military families.
10. Rebekah Edmonson
As one of the first female soldiers to work with Afghan women through the Cultural Support Team during missions overseas, she partnered with a nonprofit devoted to taking care of them after America withdrew from Afghanistan. Sisters of Service is fighting to ensure those who risked everything aren’t forgotten. She took her advocacy to the hill to fight for the Afghan Resettlement Act, too.
11. Richard Fierro
This soldier left the Army after 15 years of faithful service and four combat deployments. When Fierro found himself in a nightclub as a gunman started shooting – he jumped into action. Within a minute, he took the gunman down to the ground, and with the help of other bar-goers, fought to save the lives of everyone around them. Though five people were killed, including Fierro's daughter's boyfriend, experts have indicated so many more would have perished without Fierro's quick reaction.
12. Ashley Gutermuth
This daughter of a veteran and spouse to an Air Force officer uses her comedy platform to make people heal through laughter but also to talk about hard things. Gutermuth is on a mission to eradicate things like food insecurity for the military community and stop suicide by pushing for better mental health resources. Gutermuth was the headliner for the 2023 MilSpouseFests held around the country.
13. Isabella Guzman
As the daughter of first-generation Americans, Guzman was proud to watch her father start small businesses and eventually pursued supporting others to do the same. She’s now in charge of the Small Business Administration and using her knowledge to further business opportunities for not just veterans but military spouses, too.
14. James Harvey III
This Tuskegee Airman dedicated 20 years of his life to serving our great nation as a fighter pilot. While facing challenges due to segregation and blatant racism, Harvey refused to allow it to define him and continued to push past every barrier. He has inspired an entire generation of service because of his work and dedication. Despite just celebrating his 100th birthday, there’s no slowing the first winner of the “Top Gun” competition.
15. Lauren Hope
From a professional chef (Hope was even featured on Top Chef!) turned business owner turned Real Estate Agent, this Army spouse knows a thing or two about embracing challenges. A devoted advocate of military spouse employment opportunities, she was recently chosen to lead Second Service Foundation as its Executive Director. Hope is using her platform to increase entrepreneurship opportunities for veterans and military spouses, everywhere.
From Navy brat to Navy spouse, this lawyer has experienced it all within the military community. When she couldn’t find work, she spent years advocating for change and pursuing policy changes. She used her more recent platform with the VA and Joining Forces to build an Executive Order to tackle the disparities within military spouse employment.
17. George Kittle
Though best known for his prowess on the football field as a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, Kittle is a passionate advocate for the military community. Inspired by his own family’s service, Kittle has used the NFL's "My Cause My Cleats" initiative to honor the sacrifices of service members and the efforts of military nonprofits by recognizing the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2018, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) from 2019 to 2021 and Merging Vets & Players (MVP) in 2022. He and his family also run a podcast that goes across the country highlighting people doing good.
18. Victor LaGroon
LaGroon answered the call to serve in the Army at 35 years old. Despite having to be medically retired, he continued to serve. In the past decade he has devoted his life to creating opportunities for veterans, being a voice for the minorities in the military and building programming to address the gaps in care for those who serve.
After being rescued on the side of the road during the Vietnam War, Mitchell was adopted by an airman and spent her life focused on her own service to the country she credits with everything. After 17 years in the Navy, she built a career serving homeless veterans and eventually found her way to the VA where she continues to serve and ensure veterans are heard.
20. Charles Moore
When this soldier decided to hang up his uniform and go into the private sector, he built programming at RTX to meet the needs of veterans and military families. Despite being incredibly busy in his own role, Moore has stood up and led veteran empowerment opportunities within the company for almost a decade, and he's just getting started.
21. Wayne Peacock
The CEO of USAA spends his days ensuring those who serve receive all they need to be financially secure, every single day. In July of 2023, he led the push to launch "Face the Fight." The initiative brings corporations together with vetted nonprofits to be a solution to ending veteran suicide. Peacock is credited with building a team that takes devotion to those in uniform to the next level.
22. Stacy Pearsall
This Combat Camera Airman pushed the limits from the moment she entered into service. After two blast injuries ended Pearsall's service career early, she used her skills to tell the stories of veterans. Her commitment to going across the country to tell the stories of veterans in every single state has not only recorded vital military history but also saved countless lives.
23. Nolan Peterson
When this pilot walked away from the Air Force, he could have led a quiet life after war. Instead, he used his skills to become a combat-embedded journalist. Peterson has told the stories of troops on the ground, imploring America to recognize the realities of an all-volunteer force. On the ground in Ukraine when Russia invaded, Peterson has devoted his time to humanizing the men, women and children who continue fighting for their lives in the wartorn country.
24. Steve Schwarzman
This incredibly savvy capital investment businessman is an Army Reserve veteran who credits what he learned in uniform with building who he is today. When a chance conversation with then First Lady Michelle Obama led to a realization of how many veterans were taking their lives, he jumped into action. His firm has hired over 100k veterans over the past eight years and has developed programming to now include military spouses in their hiring initiatives.
25. Matthew Weiss
His new book, Uncle Sam We Don’t Want You, is a thought-provoking look into how to actively recruit Generation Z. And Weiss knows how it needs to be done, as he is a Marine Corps officer himself. When he saw a gap in the way leadership was trying to attract the new generation of troops it became his mission to help them do it right.
This year's MIGHTY 25 will be celebrated and formally recognized at the Military Influencer Conference in Las Vegas. Congratulations to our Class of 2023 - thank you for showing the world what it means to Be Mighty.