2021 brought unique challenges, heartache and a renewed sense of grit to America. It was a year of recognizing and harnessing the power of our military community, advocating for change and standing for what’s right, no matter the cost. The team at We Are The Mighty is honored to announce this year’s Mighty 25.
Choosing the honorees was a monumental task. The internal panel reviewed well over 100 individuals who have demonstrated undeniable leadership, integrity and a commitment to serving the military community. All are doing exceptional work within the space and narrowing the field to 25 was nearly impossible.
The MIGHTY 25 is a recognition We Are The Mighty bestows each year on individuals in the military community who have gone above and beyond. In partnership with the Military Influencer Conference, We Are The Mighty recognizes the change makers in the veteran, active duty and military family space. Selectees are advocates utilizing their influence and voices to impact policies; entrepreneurs with a passion for service; disrupters forcing accountability and meaningful change; volunteers giving so much of themselves to better our world; and leaders whose vision and actions inspire us all. The MIGHTY 25 encompasses everything it takes to truly Be Mighty.
Meet your Mighty 25:
- Zack Baddorf
Utilizing experience gained from working in news and communications for the US Navy, Baddorf has worked in various journalism and reporting capacities. He has done work for U.S. Central Command and currently works for the U.S. State Department. Baddorf has worked in social media and media operations, as well as for the Peace Corps and various news organizations in the US and around the world. He cofounded the organization Military Veterans in Journalism to support veterans working in journalist capacities around the world. Learn more about Zack's work, here.
2. Raul Barragan
California Army National Guard veteran Raul has been instrumental in the VFW's goals of bringing in younger veterans to better include them in the military community. He has transformed his post in the valley and has been asked to take over their media initiatives on a district and national level, volunteering his time while working in a sales capacity for Spectrum. A passionate advocate for education, he spends a lot of his time mentoring transitioning veterans. Learn more about Raul's work, here.
3. Zachary Bell
Though Marine veteran Zachary Bell did not intend to become a veteran influencer, more a decade out of service he had lost more friends to suicide than he did during his combat time in Afghanistan. With lockdowns looming in the midst of the pandemic, he picked up a piece of cardboard, a Sharpie and flew a sign. Bell posted images of himself on Instagram holding up signs pairing sardonic humor with support for his fellow vets who were struggling with mental health. He quickly amassed a cult-like following and now cultivates a space of inclusivity and positivity that resonates with the military community, leaning on humor to build much needed connections. Learn more about Zachary's work, here.
4. Noah Currier
Marine veteran Noah Currier made it through a tough Afghanistan deployment during the first wave of fighting after the attacks of 9/11 unscathed. He was in a severe military vehicle crash three days after returning to Camp Pendleton when the driver fell asleep at the wheel. As a result of the crash, Noah was pronounced dead from his injuries but was revived several times before waking a few days later, at which point he was paralyzed from the waist down. Though it had a major impact on his mental health, he went on to engage in wheelchair sports, and he has been committed to expanding access to adaptive sports since, creating the Oscar Mike Foundation and Brand to raise funds to support injured veterans. Learn more about Noah's work, here.
5. Kelsey DeSantis
Kelsey DeSantis is a Marine Veteran, MMA fighter and currently managing strategic partnerships at Grunt Style. She finished top of her class at boot camp, MP and K-P training. She was assigned to the HMX-1 Squadron, responsible for transporting both President Bush and President Obama. After her service, Kelsey founded the HELO Foundation whose focus was helping veterans transition through education. Kelsey continues to serve the military community through philanthropic efforts and is now playing a key role at Grunt Style's initiative to unite the military community and country through a 9/12/2001 campaign, arguing that America was never more united than on the day after the 9/11 attacks. Learn more about Kelsey, here.
6. John DeVine
John DeVine is a US Naval Academy grad and served for 11 years. DeVine became a leader in the tech sector shortly after transitioning from the military. After almost a decade and a half at McKinsey, he moved into operations at Yahoo!, before becoming VP of Global Operations at Facebook in 2018, leading efforts for integrity on the platform including overseeing work to combat misinformation during the pandemic and the 2020 US election cycle. He remains a passionate advocate for veterans. Learn more about John's work, here.
7. Rey & Sam Domingo
A power couple in the transition space, Rey Domingo spent 20 years with the Air Force before transitioning into the civilian sector, where he has worked in recruiting roles actively hiring veterans for companies like USAA, Boeing,and now M&T Bank, where he has just launched a new hiring initiative. Samantha Domingo has spent time doing human resources for the Department of Defense and McChord Field/Fort Lewis. She recently spent time working at Amazon Web Services as a Technical Recruiting Manager working on veteran hiring initiatives. Sam will soon be transitioning to Twitter, where she'll be a Senior Technical Sourcer with plans to build opportunities for military talent. They are the co-founders of #LinkedInMilCity and the K.E.Y., which hosts workshops, panels and presentations for the military community, giving veterans resources and keeping them connected. Learn more about their work, here.
8. Mauren Eilas
Maureen Elias is an Army veteran who was instrumental in crafting and passing bills to improve VA mental health care and the VA Specially Adapted Home Grant. She was also deeply involved in working to get the Deborah Sampson Act passed. She has been an advocate for veteran health, from working across the country to raise awareness for the types of health effects Vietnam Veterans face to testifying in front of Congress through work with Paralyzed Veterans of America to improve health services for women veterans and improve reproductive healthcare and she empowers other veterans to work in national advocacy. Learn more about Maureen's work, here.
9. Kirstie Ennis
After an injury in Afghanistan that resulted in the amputation of her leg, Kirstie Ennis was determined to find another way to serve, and she has served as an inspiration in the years since, building the Kirstie Ennis Foundation to raise funds to bring opportunities for people to get outdoors. Her current goal is to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountain peak on each continent. Learn more about Kirstie, here.
10. Lacey Evans
Lacey Evans was introduced to wrestling as an MP in the Marine Corps. Evans competed in independent arenas before signing with the WWE soon after leaving service. While on active duty, she also supported her siblings and family, started a construction business and began wrestling. Her story is one showcasing American determination, as she cites her life growing up as one torn apart by depression and severe substance abuse. Evans remains a vocal advocate for those looking for a way out of broken homes and those who want to find ways to break the cycle of trauma. Learn more about Lacey, here.
11. Monica Fullerton
USAF spouse Monica Fullerton found fellow entrepreneurs and creatives in the military spouse community, but no centralized place to support them. In creating Spouse.ly, the Etsy of the military community, she built a platform to encourage small business owners within the community to have the space to showcase their products and make it easier for military spouses who are constantly on the move to control their own careers. When the pandemic hit, this was an invaluable resource, both for those suddenly in need of a new gig and those looking to support the community during the crisis. Learn more about Monica's work, here.
12. Juston Graber and Andrew “Drew” Hernandez
These Army veterans took rather circuitous paths to their partnership building and creating A Combat Veteran, a streaming platform for veteran media parodies. Juston separated from the military in 2012 and immediately began to pursue a career in performing arts, training in Georgia before earning a degree from USC's School of Dramatic Arts. Drew Anthony buckled in on production work after time spent in various jobs, and has dedicated time to becoming an expert in his craft of acting and filmmaking. Both remain dedicated to serving and telling the stories of the military community. Learn more about the pair, here.
13. Tee-Marie Hanible
Marine veteran Tee-Marie Hanible founded Operation Heroes Connect in 2011, which is a veteran-led organization supporting at-risk youth by partnering them with active duty and veteran mentors, as well as supporting homeless families in the Northern Virginia area. She has worked with the National Women's March and is on the board of Womens March DC. Hanible also starred on FOX's "American Grit" hosted by John Cena and was the only female military expert on the show. She continues to be a leader in advocacy causes throughout multiple fields, stemming from her military and foster youth background. Learn more about Hanible, here.
14. Bobby Henline
Though he left service after the Gulf War, Bobby Henline returned to the Army, re-enlisting after the 9/11 attacks on America. While in Iraq on his fourth deployment to the region, his Humvee was hit by an IED, which left four of his fellow soldiers dead. The ensuing fire caused severe burns on over 40% of Henline's body. While recovering, he turned to comedy to maintain his spirits, and eventually led him to pursue a career in stand up. He speaks on behalf of veterans and created Forging Forward, a foundation dedicated to combatting suicide among veterans. Learn more about Bobby's work, here.
15. Jane Horton
Jane Horton is a Gold Star Spouse and vocal advocate for military families. She is a policy expert who has worked in a number of capacities advocating for service members and their families throughout the Pentagon, Department of Defense and with organizations like Gold Star Wives of America, the Travis Manion Foundation and the GWOT Memorial Foundation. She has advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense and is a member of the US-Afghan Womens' Council advocating for Afghan women and children and has even traveled to Afghanistan as a representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Learn more about Jane's work, here.
16. Ellie Marks
A Paralympian swimmer for the Army, Sgt. 1st Class Ellie Marks was wounded while deployed as a combat medic to Iraq. This injury caused damage to her hips that would have made her unfit for service, but she was determined to work at her health to make sure she could return. Though she was denied twice, it was when she turned to swimming as training that the Army granted her request, and she began swimming for them via the World Class Athlete Program. She would later train at the US Olympic center in Colorado. Since then, she has participated in the 2016 and 2020 Paralympics earning five medals. She sees her swimming career as a way to perform for those whose disabilities prevent them from doing so and credits her success to the military community. Learn more about Ellie, here.
17. Nic McKinley
An Air Force Pararescueman turned CIA operator, Nic McKinley founded and runs a nonprofit committed to using civilian intelligence strategies to fight global human trafficking. Though the organization has primarily focused on the United States, it is also committed to supporting women and children at risk in Afghanistan under the Taliban. His focus is in utilizing cutting-edge technology as a supplement to intelligence to organize strategic operations. Learn more about Nic's work, here.
18. Eileen Moore
A Vietnam Army combat nurse turned judge and veteran advocate, Eileen Moore has crafted legislation making veteran legal protections in court accessible as well as codifying legal advocacy for imprisoned veterans. This legislature means that veterans who end up on the wrong side of the law are able to access Veterans Court, where their specific needs are met. She writes and speaks on advocacy for veterans and sits on committees in support of veterans' issues for organizations like Bar Associations and the California Lawyers Association, and especially in her home county of Orange County. She remains a vocal supporter and advocate for veterans issues. Learn more about Eileen's work, here.
19. Oliver Parsons
Beginning as a nuclear operations officer, Oliver Parsons became the Chief of Innovative Programs for the Air Force, pioneering esports by founding Air Force Gaming. This program has made significant progress in digital technology, community development and recruitment. Additionally, it has become a force multiplier and builder of resilience within the Air Force community. Parsons hopes to build the same programming for the Space Force. Learn earn more about Oliver's work, here.
20. Queta Rodriguez
After her retirement from the Marine Corps, Captain Queta Rodriguez oversaw veteran advocacy as Bexar County Veteran Service Officer, before joining FourBlock, working her way up to regional director. She has increased the volume of veterans assisted by the organization and the organization's reach in the South-Central US region, helping with transition needs. She also works with the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Antonio and is active with many volunteer organizations on behalf of veterans in the area. In 2020, she was appointed as civilian expert to a committee for an independent review of the culture of Fort Hood, delivering recommendations to Congress after heavy research in December 2020. Learn more about Queta's work, here.
21. Dr. Richard Schneider
Retired Coast Guard Reserves RADM Dr. Richard Schneider began his time in the heat of the Vietnam War. Schneider would serve eight years on active duty before losing his wife at just 40 years old. Left to care for four young daughters, he transitioned to the Reserves. He became a passionate advocate for education, eventually earning his Ph.D. Schneider would eventually become the president of one of the nation’s oldest private military universities, Norwich University. He retired from the Coast Guard after 30 years of faithful service and continued his tenure at Norwich for 28 years, graduating hundreds of 2nd Lieutenants and Ensigns. He remains active and currently lends his time to supporting the building of the first Coast Guard Museum and inspiring future citizen soldiers. Learn more about RADM Schneider, here.
22. Christine Schwartz
An Army veteran and military spouse, Christine Schwartz became a George W. Bush Center scholar through the Stand-To Veteran Leadership program, and the resources and training she gained allowed her to expand the nonprofit for which she was COO and later CEO, Service to School. Service to School helps mentor and support veterans looking to enter higher education by working with them to succeed in areas like standardized testing and application processes. She advocates for female veterans who, due to the stigma of "invisible service," often struggle to find success in the civilian sector, as their service is undervalued in many areas including higher education. Learn more about Christine's work, here.
23. Mike Slagh
A Naval Academy grad and an EOD officer, Mike Slagh founded and runs Shift, an organization committed to veteran career advancement and transition support. He is open in sharing his own struggles with the weight of his service. It was through lessons learned and his commitment to his fellow veterans Shift was created. The organization prioritizes helping veterans understand how to apply the skills that they gained in the military to civilian careers, giving them the tools they need to move forward beyond service. Learn more about Slagh's work, here.
24. Steve Weintraub
Retired Marine Corps Colonel Steve Weintraub has spent his life serving the country and his fellow service members. VetTix is an organization for vets, by vets. The veterans behind it continue to give back to their community even after service, and Weintraub, as Chief Strategy Officer, makes sure it has the resources to continue its mission. As venues continue to reopen for events as the pandemic hopefully winds down, he is ensuring that vets are able to reconnect with the country they've fought for by making events steeped in American culture accessible to those who cannot afford some of the high price tags. Steve has also in the past worked for Student Veterans of America to ensure vets also have access to education that will jumpstart their post-service careers. Learn more about Steve's work, here.
25. Unsung heroes of Afghanistan
Reflecting on the 20-year war on terrorism in Afghanistan brings about so many emotions. Unbearable heartache for those lives forever changed or lost. Anger at the eventual takeover of a country so many Americans fought to liberate. But also woven in and through those complicated feelings is a deep sense of patriotism and unity in the commitment to those who raised their hands to serve the values of democracy. We will always remember the brave souls who never wavered in the face of evil and tyranny. From United Flight 93 to the invisible CIA officers we’ll never know, to the countless men and women working tirelessly to aid in rescue and evacuation efforts this year, WATM remembers and honors the unsung heroes of Afghanistan. Today and always, they are MIGHTY.