Amidst the ongoing debate about whether female troops should be allowed to serve in combat positions, these women proved that girls have guts by earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
1. Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart was an early pioneer for women in aviation. She became famous for her numerous achievements in flight, and, unfortunately, for her mysterious disappearance in 1937 while attempting a circumnavigation of the earth.
In 1932, she gained notoriety when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. This flight also garnered her a Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress — the first for a women and the first for a civilian.
2. 1st Lt. Aleda Lutz
Aleda Lutz served as a flight nurse aboard C-47 Medevac aircraft during WWII. In 196 missions, Lutz evacuated and treated some 3,500 casualties and was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters for her service.
On Nov. 1, 1944, Lutz flew on her last mission, evacuating wounded soldiers from the fighting in France, when her plane crashed in a storm. Lutz was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “outstanding proficiency and selfless devotion to duty.”
She is also believed to have been the first woman killed in action in WWII.
3. 1st Lt. Roberta S. Ross
Roberta Ross also served as a flight nurse in World War II. Her service took her to Asia where she flew “the hump”, completing over 100 missions. For her efforts, she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Despite heavy fire, Hill made multiple gun runs against insurgents. On her final pass her helicopter received a hit from an RPG which damaged her instruments.
As she banked away, machine gun fire riddled the bottom of her aircraft and struck her in the foot. She managed to limp the damaged aircraft back to a nearby FOB, saving her aircraft and crew.
6. Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar
Mary Jennings Hegar would become only the second woman to ever receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.
While flying a medevac mission, Hegar’s Blackhawk helicopter was shot down by insurgents and she was wounded in a well-executed trap. According to an interview with NPR,she climbed on the skids of a Kiowa helicopter that landed to extract her and, despite her wounds, provided cover fire with her M4 while the aircraft flew off.
For her efforts, she received the Distinguished Flying Cross with valor and the Purple Heart.
7. Sgt. Julia Bringloe
Julia Bringloe was serving as a flight medic on a medevac crew when American and Afghan forces launched Operation Hammer Down in the Pech River Valley. Almost immediately, the units involved started taking casualties, and Bringloe and the rest of her dustoff crew were flying into fierce enemy fire.
While extracting one soldier of many she would rescue over the course of three days, Bringloe’s leg was broken. While ascending a 150-foot lift on a cable with her patient, she had swung into a tree. She refused to quit, however, and over the next 60 hours rescued fourteen soldiers from the battlefield.
Bringloe was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, as were both pilots of her helicopter. The crew chief received an Air Medal with Valor and their efforts were named the Air/Sea Rescue of the Year by the Army Aviation Association of America.
Care packages are how troops stay connected with the ones they love back home. Most troops will have their family send them little trinkets or mama-made cookies to make things better while troops without families have their day brightened by a sweet, heartfelt thank-you card sent by a grade schooler.
These packages are the one constant that every troop, regardless of where or when they served, can depend on. But on January 21st, 2018, the shipping costs for postage to and from all APO/FPO/DPO addresses increased substantially. Thankfully, this increase can be reverted and the rate for shipping can be permanently fixed, benefiting the troops.
Nothing can bring joy to troops like a care package from home.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)
The increases in shipping costs to APO/FPO/DPO addresses were part of an overall increase in the price for all mailing services, across the board. Rates for APO/FPO/DPO mailing addresses were hit hardest — almost doubled. In the defense of the United States Postal Service, the APO/FPO flat-rate box was only increased by five cents and they’ve always supported the troops, but a recently proposed bill can take that support further.
If there were a separate, fixed rate for all postage going to and from troops at APO/FPO addresses, it would be classified as Zone 1/2 postage from any CONUS location. Meaning, that if you were to ship a big ol’ care package not in a APO/FPO flat-rate box, it would cost the same as sending a letter to a soldier stationed in Germany.
But mainly, you don’t want to screw over the nice people who just want to help support the troops.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)
In addition to offering a single, fixed rate for those who want to send a care package abroad that might not fit within a fixed-rate box, this could also open up companies to more readily offer online shopping opportunities to deployed troops.
This also means that troops would be more able to ship things from deployed environments back to the States. So, a deployed parent could pick up souvenirs at a local bazaar for their kid while crafty troops could ship certain personal belongings home before they return stateside so don’t need to wait for the connex to return months later.
The bill would apply to all troops everywhere, even if they’re sailing in the middle of nowhere.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lorenzo J. Burleson)
The bill that includes this fixed cost, H.R.6231 – Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Thomas MacArthur. It would permanently establish a single rate for mail and packages being sent to and from at APO/FPO/DPO addresses.
Congressman MacArthur has championed veteran issues since his assignment to the Armed Services Committee and its two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces and the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. He also introduced the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act, which would have allowed veterans to access any mental health care facility and eligible for reimbursement — but it failed to garner approval.
To help make sure that this bill makes it through Congress, contact your representative and let them know how you feel. Let them know that this bill will greatly benefit the morale of our fighting men and women. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3 percent chance of being enacted, so if you feel passionately about it, don’t wait; act.
If you’re unsure of who your representative is, you can use this tool right here and let them know you support H.R.6231 — the Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018.
In 2013, Lone Survivor hit the big screen with Mark Wahlberg at the helm, earning just over $158 million. The story of the daring rescue mission for the Navy SEAL and his team, however, remained untold — until now.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is America’s large-scale Special Operations Force (SOF) and is made up of the most elite soldiers in the world. Dr. Tony Brooks was one of them, but first, he was a college kid forever changed by the attacks on 9/11.
“I was actually on my way to the gym and was just getting warmed up and that’s when it was on the screen. I just saw this little speck flying down and had no clue what it was until they zoomed in. It was a person jumping from the towers,” he explained.
Brooks shared he was ready to enlist immediately after the terrorist attacks but his father cautioned him to wait until after finishing school. Not long after, he saw Pat Tillman leave the NFL to become a Ranger, which sealed the deal for him, he said. He enlisted in 2003 and after a year of grueling training, he was a Ranger. Assigned to Fort Lewis in Washington, there was a casualty on his first day. He was sent to Afghanistan almost immediately.
“My first mission and deployment involved Operation Red Wings which was the Lone Survivor mission,” he explained.
Through some laughter, he referenced being “thrown in the fire” and admitted it was absolutely the start of his military life. The mission took place in 2005 and Brooks left the Army when his enlistment was over. When asked why he decided to write a book now, he said it was for his children.
“I looked at them and thought, am I ever going to tell them about my service or what happened? And I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t. That isn’t a conversation anyone wants to have,” Brooks shared. “I really felt like writing was the best way to explain it and allowed me to really take the time to tell the story.”
Not only did he want to write it for his children but also for the Rangers who completed the mission alongside him. “No one has told the story of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s role in this mission — all the guys I served with have been forgotten over the years. I felt like they were in the shadows,” he added.
The response to the new book has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Leave No Man Behind: The Untold Story of the Rangers’ Unrelenting Search for Marcus Luttrell, the Navy Seal Lone Survivor in Afghanistan” not only has rave reviews but the men he served with continually tell him how grateful they are for it. They, too, are giving the book to their family members to share their story.
“It’s a huge motivator for me to have people tell their stories. Veterans are struggling emotionally and physically also because we don’t talk about these things. A book gives people the opportunity to have conversations,” Brooks said.
It also gives the civilian population a way to understand the true meaning of service, he said. “Everyone is a volunteer. It’s great for our nation, right? But it also makes it easy for the press to ignore it because people are volunteering to serve. If they had to pick people it would be news,” Brooks explained.
During the summer of 2005, Operation Red Wings was launched by the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines utilizing their SOF units and assets. Three out of the four Navy SEAL operators were ambushed and killed hours after beginning their team recon mission. Two quick reaction force helicopters were sent in.
One was shot down with an RPG-7.
The prologue and initial chapters of the book poignantly hit on the “Why?” behind the rescue and eventual recovery mission for the 75th Ranger Regiment team — and Brooks.
The helicopter crash killed all eight Navy SEALs and the eight U.S. Army Special Operations aviators on board. As the sun rose the morning after his boots landed in Afghanistan, his team was informed of the losses. The new mission, dubbed Operation Red Wings II, was to recover the fallen heroes and the lone survivor — Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell.
“Leave No Man Behind” begins with Brooks’ decision to enlist and his life as a young Ranger, the good and the bad. You’ll follow him through his rigorous training which was met with tragic loss and his eventual deployment to Afghanistan. He paints a heartbreaking picture of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s fight to reach their comrades. Through steep and treacherous mountain climbing, the team finally reached the crash site 36 hours after the helicopter had been shot down. They weren’t prepared for what waited for them.
Brooks and his team began the horrible task of recovering the 16 lost heroes. Readers won’t be able to avoid the pain and hardship of the mission etched in the chapter or the rush of emotions when they find Luttrell. Brooks deployed again after Operation Red Wings, this time to Iraq. There were more of those emotions when it finished. The wear and tear of the service left its mark. He made the decision to separate from the Army in 2007, enrolling in school with the goal of becoming a chiropractor.
And he did.
There are zero regrets for enlisting and if anything, he said he figured out who he was when he became a Ranger.
“Looking back, I’ve always sometimes questioned the decision to leave but even now I am still helping people, just in different ways. It’s powerful and I take it very seriously because I can change someone’s life by getting them out of pain,” he said.
His final message to readers and war commentators was simple and very direct.
“Love the warriors and hate the war. A lot of time we have trouble separating the two…it wasn’t our choice to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s political,” Brooks said adamantly. “People need to understand that the reason we go to war is for the person to our right, to our left and the people back home we love.”
“Leave No Man Behind” is a powerful reminder of the cost of war and the importance of acknowledging it every single day.
To learn more about the book or snag your copy, click here.
We all have that friend who marches to the beat of their own drum. The one who challenges the stereotypes of how the world has always been or, even scarier, doesn’t care. These are the friends who don’t follow normal routines, who see life not just as doing work but as a chance to build something bigger than themselves. They are seemingly fearless.
For me, that friend is James Brobyn.
As a “Mustang,” a prior enlisted Marine, who worked his way to the Naval Academy and then into leading Marines in combat as an infantry officer, James has always taken risks. Even after he took off the uniform, he continued to pursue challenges that seemed too risky to consider, even for the most battle hardened. He helped the Travis Manion Foundation grow from a small family-led nonprofit into a nationally recognized powerhouse. He’s started businesses, closed businesses and started them again. James’ battles can be scary both to your health and to your finances but I’ve learned that my friend is not fearless. Instead, he finds his strength in a single word that defines who he is at his core: INTEGRITY.
In ancient Rome, the Legionnaires, not unlike Marines today, would conduct inspections before battle. Paramount in this ritual was their breastplate, the armour that protects soldiers from enemy arrows or swords. Legionnaires would spend countless hours polishing their breastplates and tightening straps. Not a single crack or chip was permitted. When a soldier passed inspection, he would pound his fist into the metal and yell, “Integritas,” (Integrity) for all others to hear. This was not only an affirmation that the armour was sound but also that the heart and soul it protected was of whole, pure character — ready to take on any challenge in battle.
James has called me into his battles both figuratively and literally many times over the last two decades. We served together in the Marines and deployed together to Iraq. He’s been my boss twice. He fired me once only to hire me back 10 years later. Another story for another time but I am grateful for everything he has taught me. Above all else, James is not afraid of hard work. In between these battles, James would disappear for a few months and then reappear with a phone call. Even to this day, he still starts each conversation with my callsign from Iraq, “White 1.”
Not long ago, James called me again. “White 1, I got something for you.” He paused. “I’ve started a cannabis company and I want you to come see what we’ve built.” Of course, I was intrigued but also weary. Cannabis is an industry tied with all kinds of risk. It’s legal in some states, not in others. It’s celebrated by some of my friends (especially veterans) and hated by others, including my own family. There is a stigma that cannabis is the Wild West, a gold rush of former drug dealers and shady investors trying to get rich in the grey area. It’s a world of multiple tribes jockeying for power. Honestly, it felt a little like James was asking me to go back to Iraq. I stuttered, “Is this legal?”
My friend could only laugh, “Yes, we’ve built our business with integrity from the ground up.” Two days later, I was on a plane to a cannabis farm in Michigan. What I saw changed my entire view of both James and the industry.
The American Fiber Company (AmFI) is a multistate cannabis brand that delivers pharmaceutical grade products directly to consumers and wholesalers. It is also the result of a three year journey that took James and his team from Colombia to Canada to the United States. AmFi operates three dispensaries in Michigan; they’re the first company approved to import FDA certified 100% organic CBD oil into the United States and they’ve partnered with world class research facilities to ensure their products maintain the highest safety standards. My first question to James: “How the hell did you build all this?”
James reminded me, “We did the hard work. We built the framework. We run it the right way with Integrity.”
I recently chatted with James to understand more about his journey from combat to cannabis.
James: White 1.
WATM:Blue 1. (James’s callsign from 2006). Boom. All right. Comms are up. So here’s my thought and you tell me what you feel comfortable with. I would really like to focus on your journey from combat to the cannabis industry as well as some of the crazy things that happened along the way.
James: Ok. So before I answer that, what is your goal with the article?
I think to myself, “Dammit. How did he turn that one on me so fast?”
WATM:Good question. I like to highlight influencers in our space that are at the top of their game. It’s a series of interview questions so people can get to know others that are making moves in our world. So are you making moves?
James: (He laughs). Yeah, ok, I think that makes sense. So I guess from my standpoint, I’m most excited about how the journey got me to this point right now. Honestly, every skill from the Academy to leading Marines in combat to the Travis Manion Foundation are all being used to build something.
All those core values that we learned and were beat into us. Do hard work with integrity, do it the right way. That’s what’s really neat about it. When you put those principles to work every day and you teach people to abide by them, you build your own tribe and it works. People want to be a part of something. And that’s what’s kind of cool about this. That’s what’s really been the neatest part about the cannabis industry. It’s a rich kind of this weird, you know, fraternity that lets in all types of people, which is great.
WATM:When was the first time you got introduced to cannabis?
James: My God, I was a teenager. I grew up in Philly in the 80s and 90s. At 15, 16, 17, it was part of the culture. Honestly, it wasn’t about weed. I was just trying to fit in with the local friends. Normal teenage stuff. And I wanted to keep up with my older brothers but I made bad choices and eventually my dad kicked me out of the house.
WATM:Kicked you out?
James: Yep, at 19, but honestly he should have done it earlier. In hindsight, I just wanted to find my tribe and the outcome was partying. I had it in sports, but, you know, as soon as you start getting older and you leave high school you lose the camaraderie. A lot of people do. So I made bad decisions. We’ll leave it at that.
WATM:What about the decision to join the Marine Corps?
James: When I was at boot camp, I was like, what the hell did I do? I thought that, like, every day. But I think most people do. When I got my aircrew wings, it was scary to be Lance Corporal, but I had two pilots in my squadron that I flew with consistently. They told me about a program for helping enlisted Marines get into the Naval Academy. They changed my life.
WATM:Why do you think they focused on you?
James: In so many ways, they took an interest in me and my long term well-being. Not short term, not as some piece of equipment, but in me as a person. Once word got around that there was traction on my application, honestly, I had half the squadron helping me out. I even had Staff NCOs that were taking me on ridiculous runs to train me to get ready to go to the Naval Academy. I mean, I think they just saw I gave a shit. I showed up every day.
WATM: Is there anything about your time at the Academy that stands out? Any major lessons learned that you still use today?
James: You learn how to win there. I believe it. It comes down to two things. First is the honor code. I think you see it with Captain Crozier (USNA ’92) and the recent situation on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Your integrity is what you have. If you give it away, then you have no foundation. Nothing to build from. It’s a house of cards. Secondly, the Academy teaches you that you can do more than any other person out there. Without a doubt. I mean, you know, the amount of stuff you can get done in 24 hours there is ridiculous. I keep those lessons with me daily.
James with the Marines of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Iraq, 2006
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM: You graduated in 2004, and we deployed to Iraq together not long after. What is there about leading Marines that stands out?
James: I loved my dudes. 2006 and 2007 were hard times to be in Iraq. We were given a mission to provide security for 30,000 people and not much more resources than what we had. That pretty much looks like a small business to me. It was the best entrepreneurship training that I’ve had. Honestly, combat is the closest thing to running a business in the cannabis industry. that I have found. You have to be nimble, understand uncertainty, take a look at risks and act. But at the end of the day, your plan never survives first contact. All you can do is surround yourself with good people.
WATM: How do you make the leap from combat to cannabis?
James: At first, I was just following cannabis related to veterans. There are a lot of positive benefits outside just the medical aspects. First off, dudes drink less, eat better and lose weight. There are multiple levels of benefit but I hadn’t thought about the business side of things until I met Dan Tobon, a former Army Sniper and Iraq veteran. We became fast friends. Dan had just started working on a project in Colombia where his family is from called NuSierra Holdings.
Colombia had approved export of cannabis products and it was anticipated at that time Canada and Australia would be able to import them, even THC products. So it was a big rush to get out of Colombia and go out to the commoditized cannabis world. Then we met John Leja, founder of PharmaCannis, who understood the retail side of the business and was trying to establish a packing facility in Toronto. I met John and Dan at a bar in Philly and they asked me, ‘Will you help us out?‘ I didn’t know much about cannabis but I knew we had supply and distribution so I said, ‘Sure. Let’s figure this out.’ I was on a plane to Toronto the next day.
WATM:There are so many stereotypes associated with cannabis, do you have a hard time getting over the stigmas or comparisons to a gold rush?
James: I learned alot from John and Dan about how to stop thinking of cannabis as a shiny object of gold that’s going to make everyone rich but as a commodity that’s going to be turned into an amazing consumer product. If you reframe cannabis that way, you can start thinking about designing a strategy where you can gain footholds into different parts of the supply chain that are completely compliant, legal, and then allow us to really take a good market share of the industry.
James and the Author in a American Fiber Company grow facility
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM:Was this venture your training for the American Fiber Company and setting up a cannabis business in the U.S.?
James: 100%. In 2018, it felt like every state was its own country when it came to cannabis. Some were recreational, others were medicinal only and others, it was flat out illegal. We had a plan for how to set up a multi-state operation but it’s hard to work because every jurisdiction has its own rules. And you literally have to go into jurisdictions. You have to work with the locals. You can’t just pop in your model and make it work. You have to build from the ground up and it all came back to finding the right people. People with integrity. American Fiber established our first operations in Southwest Michigan.
WATM:You’ve mentioned integrity a lot. What does integrity really mean to you?
James: It’s not about just telling the truth. It’s about following through. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do. Doing it the right way. Even if it’s hard — especially if it’s hard. That’s the key here because that’s how you normalize the industry. We work with the state and federal regulators to do the hard work that people don’t want to do.
WATM: Like becoming the first company in the U.S. to legally import full spectrum CBD oil?
James: That’s just one example. We never set out to be the first company in the world to import full-spectrum CBD oil out of Colombia into the US, but we figured out how to get it compliant with Customs and Border Protection. But we’ve also taken on other challenges that are just as hard. We’ve built a research partnership in Delaware with Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biology so that we can figure out how to start collecting real data on health benefits so that we can go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, get approved by the FDA on certain products and continue to provide safe quality, cannabis products to our consumers. And that’s why it’s a long game.
The American Fiber Company Team in Michigan
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM: Is the long game paying off?
James: I think so. Take the current COVID-19 restrictions for example. Every state that had medicinal and recreational policies deemed cannabis business essential. I mean, yeah. Our team in South Michigan is out there every day serving patients curbside, delivery, and hopefully drive-through soon. We’re moving into a post-prohibition world right now and now it’s pretty exciting.
WATM: Where do you see American Fiber in that world. Maybe 5 years from now?
James: Oh, my God. That’s like 50 decades in this industry. Well, let me tell you what the ultimate goal is, and it’s how we’ve always tried to build a company. I always felt that we built a company that we could take public. Ultimately, I want American Fiber to be synonymous with all the values that make our people and country ready to face whatever challenge comes ahead. Hard work, commitment and integrity.
If someone told you the only way for you to survive the coming recession unscathed would be to start your own business, would you even know where to begin? Would you be able to afford the startup costs on your own? Can you handle the workload that might come with such a venture? For most people, especially veterans, that answer is no. That’s what startup accelerators are for – access to knowledge, access to capital, mentorship, connections, talent – all these things can be acquired through these programs.
Vets have some unique skills and traits that make them natural entrepreneurs. And that’s why a startup accelerator like Bunker Labs has big plans for those who are ready to take the first steps toward entrepreneurship.
When some of the most powerful brands get together for vets, big things happen.
Veterans are an interesting slice of Americans, especially where entrepreneurship is concerned. Time and again, veterans show they have the work ethic and drive it takes to start their own enterprises. Of the 200,000 separating veterans every year, 25 percent of those are interested in starting their own businesses but only 4.5 percent of those 50,000 vets are actually able to pursue their own entrepreneurial vision. The reason is because starting your own business takes knowledge veterans may not have and capital most definitely do not have.
That’s where a veteran-owned business accelerator can come into play. If you don’t know where to begin but you have a great idea, an accelerator like Bunker Labs is a great place to start. Starting a business isn’t obvious – there’s a lot that goes into it that you will just not know. Bunker Labs is a non-profit startup accelerator for the military-veteran community comprised of veteran volunteers with the tools and resources to help their fellow vetrepreneurs start their business.
Bunker Labs has helped create more than 1,000 veteran jobs in the United States and helped raise some million in startup capital. This accelerator captures the ambition and innovation veterans bring to startups and equips them with knowledge, mentorship, and opportunities they might otherwise not have had access to. There are labs online, labs in-residency for vets, and when the ball really gets rolling, a cadre of CEO vetrepreneurs who are taking their work to the next level. Bunker Labs is even a partner with the 2019 Military Influencer Conference, a three-day entrepreneurial workshop which brings together the brightest and most inspiring veteran entrepreneurs to teach and share their lessons learned and best practices.
To get started with Bunker Labs, vets simply have to start with registering for their Launch Labs Online, fill out some quick demographic information and from there you can connect with other new members, find a mentor, engage the Facebook group, and more. After activating your account, you can start taking classes with Bunker Labs right away. The core classes include knowing yourself, knowing your customers, and how to make money. From there, the sky could be the limit.
If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.
Throughout the year, the team at We Are The Mighty has the privilege of learning about and meeting people doing extraordinary things in the military-veteran community. This is the inspiration behind our annual Mighty 25: Influencers Supporting the Military Community in 2018 — a list of individuals who are making a difference for military service members, veterans, and their families.
This year, we expanded our list to include not just veterans, prior service members, and reservists, but also civilians who are doing exemplary work in this community.
The Mighty 25 Committee utilized a set of specific criteria to select 25 members of the military-veteran community currently making a significant impact. The committee was comprised of the diverse WATM team of veteran editors, writers, and creators who engage with this community daily. The task force conducted extensive research to identify over 100 initial potential candidates. The top 25 were chosen according to impact and the representation of a diverse variety of social causes, fields of work, and communities affected.
This individuals on this year’s Mighty 25 have dedicated their lives to missions that vary greatly: from developing transitioning service members and their spouses into successful entrepreneurs, to helping veterans heal through stand-up comedy training. Yet these exceptional individuals all share one goal: to improve the lives of those who have sacrificed for their country.
We are excited to share these influencers’ stories, highlight their accomplishments to the world, and cheer them on as they continue to make a difference in the lives of many. The 2018 Mighty 25 list is presented here in alphabetical order.
Dr. Jill Biden
Combining a lifetime passion for teaching with her high-profile role as former second lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden is able to reach millions as a premier advocate for military service members and their families.
Not long after their husbands took office, Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up to form “Joining Forces,” a non-profit that partners with the private and public sectors to provide military families with tools to succeed throughout their lives. Their initiative, “Operation Educate the Educator,” was designed to help teachers understand what military families go through, and was introduced at 100 teaching colleges across America.
Biden believes that in addition to military members, families also serve – including children. Her book Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops is the story of a little girl coping with her father’s deployment, and is based on the Biden family’s own experiences when their son and father, the late Beau Biden, was deployed to Iraq.
The Biden Foundation, launched Feb. 2017, by Dr. Jill Biden and former Vice President Joe Biden, is a nonprofit organization that looks to “identify policies that advance the middle class, decrease economic inequality, and increase opportunity for all people,” according to its website. One of the organization’s primary focuses is supporting military families.
In April 2017, Biden was appointed to the JP Morgan Chase Military and Veterans’ Affairs External Advisory Council. The council advises the firm on a comprehensive strategy to design programs and products aimed at serving the unique needs of members of the military, veterans and their families.
U.S. Naval Academy graduate and retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Cooper spent an impressive career in the Marine Corps as an EA-6B Prowler aircrew, serving five tours in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, one in Europe, and one in the Western Pacific. Cooper now serves as the Director of National Security Outreach at Human Rights First, a nonprofit organization that advocates for human rights, especially in encouraging America to be a leader and champion of human rights at home and abroad. In his role, Cooper works to build broad coalitions among military agencies, the national security community, veteran service organizations, and think tanks.
In 2015, Cooper’s passion for advocating for Afghan and Iraqi wartime allies and Syrian refugees led him to found Veterans for American Ideals, a nonpartisan, grassroots, community-based group of veterans aiming to leverage military veteran voices to bridge divides and regain a shared sense of national community. He believes that within this increasingly divisive political climate, veterans can be an important civilizing, unifying force. Their work amplifies veterans’ experiences, leadership abilities, and credibility to combat the erosion of our democratic norms and to challenge the rise of xenophobic, fear-based rhetoric and policies that run counter to our ideals.
In the face of the refugee ban promulgated by the current White House administration, Cooper has dedicated himself to championing the rights of refugees on Capitol Hill, working to educate government officials on the current refugee vetting process, even leading a delegation of refugees to meet with the offices of numerous senators, including John McCain, Jeanne Shaheen, Marco Rubio, Tammy Duckworth, Chuck Grassley, Joe Manchin, and Ed Markey.
Cooper also lends a prominent voice to this public issue as a published author, with his pieces on human rights issues and American values appearing in numerous publications, including the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Quarterly, War on the Rocks, Task and Purpose, The American Interest, and Policy Review.
The crown in Elizabeth Dole’s long and varied public career may not lie in her capacity as Federal Trade Commissioner under President Richard Nixon, Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan, or Secretary of Labor under George H.W. Bush — and possibly not even as United States Senator from her home state of North Carolina.
Rather, it is her foundation that may hold more significance for the ordinary Americans it serves every single day. Through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Dole has chosen to use her high-profile platform to advocate for those 5.5 million spouses, friends, and family members who care for America’s ill, injured, and wounded veterans.
While visiting her husband at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dole first became aware of the needs and challenges facing military caregivers. A veteran of World War II, Bob Dole is the recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and has long suffered from the effects of his injuries. As she visited other veterans suffering catastrophic wounds, Dole was drawn to the families, constantly at the side of their loved ones, receiving little or no support.
Under Dole’s leadership, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation has brought national attention to military caregiver issues through its Hidden Heroes Campaign, launched grassroot support initiatives in more than 110 cities across the nation via Hidden Heroes Cities, encouraged innovation and the creation of direct service programming supporting caregivers through Hidden Heroes Fund, empowered and equipped military caregivers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico with tools to advocate on behalf of their caregiver peers though the Dole Caregiver Fellows program, and advocated for national caregiver support with Congressional and VA leaders. The Foundation also launched HiddenHeroes.org, a first-of-its-kind online tool where military caregivers can connect to a peer support community and directory of 200+ carefully vetted resources.
Dole’s impact doesn’t stop there. In October 2017, she was appointed chair of the Veteran Administration’s new family and caregiver advisory committee, which was formed in response to problems with support programs, and is charged with advocating for improvements to VA care and benefits services.
Marjorie K. Eastman
Her 2017 National Independent Publisher Award-winning book The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11 not only reframes how many thought about those who served in the conflicts following 9/11, it is the first book to define the timeless legacy of anyone who steps up to serve, declaring the most significant call to action for our time. What started as a memoir project that this former enlisted, direct commission Army Reserve officer took on to cope with her infant son’s battle with cancer, it became an informational and inspiring collection of reflections on those with whom she served, and the aftershocks of service, character, and leadership.
She sought to write a book that would help shape the man she hoped her son will become — yet she succeeded in shaping the narrative of post 9/11 veterans as being far more, and better than, the prevailing themes of hero or broken. And the U.S. Army took notice and placed her book on the recommended reading list for the Military Intelligence Center of Excellence library and museum. A 2018 updated version of her book is now available (audio book set to release in late May), with an additional appendix that empowers readers to find a mission — inciting confidence that every one of us can live with purpose, live for each other, and lead.
Named by PBS’s Veterans Coming Home Initiative as a veteran thought leader, Eastman, who was awarded the Bronze Star as a combat commander, as well as the Combat Action Badge, continues to pioneer new ground by positively reinforcing the value of veterans and service as an unmatched currency. She is a frequent public speaker and her articles on topical issues such as the #MeToo movement, veteran entrepreneurs as a force multiplier in our economy, how veterans can bridge the partisan divide, and the potential impact of U.S. State Department cuts have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, Task Purpose, and USA Today. Make sure to check out her 2018 Deck of 52 Most Wanted post 9/11 Frontline Leaders, a weekly column that is a spin-off and salute to the original deck (2003 Iraqi Playing Cards), highlighting veterans and military families who have launched exceptional businesses and charities.
On Aug. 21, 2009, while enroute from Camp Victory to the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad, Iraq, then-Army Col. Carol Eggert’s vehicle was struck by an EFP — an explosively formed projectile. She calls it her Gratitude Day. She and all ten service members riding with her that day were wounded. Eggert was in Iraq on a 15-month combat tour as Chief of the Women’s Initiatives Division and Senior Liaison to the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad. In this role, she conducted an analysis of women’s initiatives and engineered a strategic plan to empower Iraqi women economically and politically.
Now as a retired brigadier general in the private sector, Eggert continues to lead through empowerment. She currently serves as the Senior Vice President, Military and Veteran Affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal, executing Comcast NBCUniversal’s commitment to deliver meaningful career opportunities to veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses. Eggert recently announced that the company exceeded its goal of hiring 10,000 members of the military community between 2015 and 2017.
Eggert’s selection for this role comes as no surprise. Eggert herself served across several components, including the Regular Army, the Army Reserve, and the National Guard. She also earned several degrees — two master’s and a doctorate in organizational leadership. In addition to the Purple Heart, Eggert is also the recipient of the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, and Meritorious Service Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters.
U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Navy Seal Nick Etten believes that veterans’ quality of life could be improved — and lives could be saved — through access to cannabis for medical treatment. Through his organization, the Veterans Cannabis Project, Etten champions cannabis as a life-saving treatment option. With the prevalence of chronic pain among military veterans leading to a deadly opioid addiction problem within the community, Etten views Cannabidiol (CBD) products as a viable way to help veterans get off opioids.
Access to medical marijuana for veterans, however, is limited. The laws regulating marijuana are currently murky, since it is illegal under federal law, but legal under the law in some states. And because of the current classification of cannabis as a schedule one drug, research on its potential benefits for veterans is limited, and the Department of Veteran affairs does not allow its providers to prescribe or even recommend it to patients.
The Veterans Cannabis Project has been active on Capitol Hill, working to educate lawmakers, and requesting they take action to help clarify the health benefits of cannabis. Etten’s work to educate, advocate, support research, and partner with like-minded organizations is paving the path for future access to alternative treatment options for veterans.
When Justine Evirs joined the Navy, her plan was to make a career out of it. Her early medical discharge, however, forced her back to square one. She ended up in college to study business then spent numerous years in higher education and veteran services. Evirs is now a mother of three, military spouse, and prominent leader and disrupter in the entrepreneurial and veteran military spouse communities, whose ideas are fast-tracking opportunities for veterans entering the civilian workforce or starting their own businesses.
In her previous role as the Executive Director of the nonprofit Bunker Labs Bay Area Evirs helps provide resources and networking opportunities to military veterans and their spouses who are starting and growing their own businesses. Now in her new role as the National Director of Policy at Bunker Labs she is focused on policy solutions for veteran entrepreneurs across the nation.
The Paradigm Switch, a nonprofit founded by Evirs in 2017, originally provided veterans and military spouses access to prestigious certifications and vocational skills-based programs. Fast forward to today, The Paradigm Switch has recently relaunched and is putting military spouses first. Evirs is building a global digital community for military spouses by military spouses, offering a full spectrum of resources that enable spouses to unleash their unlimited potential both personally and professionally. They discover and provide access to resources and communities that empower military spouses to take control of their careers.
Delphine Metcalf-Foster made history in 2017, when she became the first woman ever elected as the National Commander of the Disabled Americans Veterans (DAV) organization.
Metcalf-Foster, whose father was a Buffalo Soldier, joined the military later in life, when her daughter was in high school. Her daughter was convinced people would laugh at her mom because of her age, but Metcalf-Foster went for it, and ended up retiring from the Army Reserve 21 years later. During her service, she deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield, where she was injured.
Metcalf-Foster’s passion for serving fellow veterans has fueled her work with DAV. With over 1 million members, this nonprofit organization helps injured veterans access benefits and advocates on their behalf. In her role as the DAV National Commander, Metcalf-Foster aims to spotlight the need to close the health care gap that exists for women veterans, as well as the need to expand government support for caregivers of pre 9/11 veterans.
It all started with this former Army captain’s raw, brutally honest and irreverent blog titled Kaboom: a Soldier’s War Journal, which chronicled his 15-month Iraq deployment leading a scout platoon with the 25th Infantry Division. The controversial and popular blog was eventually shut down by Gallagher’s chain-of-command, but was later published as a critically-acclaimed memoir after he left the Army.
Armed with an MFA in fiction from Columbia, Gallagher went on to write for numerous major publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Wired. Tackling such dicey issues as whether or not the Iraq War was worth it, the social estrangement of returning veterans, and refugee and immigration rights of Muslims coming to America, Gallagher challenges intellectual and moral complacency. As a veteran directly affected by these issues, Gallagher’s skepticism of the establishment, honest self-reflection, and calls for accountability bring an enormously refreshing and credible perspective to the conversation.
In 2015, Vanity Fair called Matt Gallagher one of the most important voices of a new generation of American war literature. His debut novel Youngblood (2016) portrays a young soldier in his search for meaning during the end of the Iraq War.
As a former intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, the mayor of Los Angeles has made improving the lives of veterans a priority throughout his tenure. His establishment of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs aimed to ensure veterans in Los Angeles can access the services they’ve earned. One of Garcetti’s most impressive contributions to the veteran community during his time as mayor has been through the office’s massive hiring campaign called the 10,000 Strong Initiative.
Garcetti’s groundbreaking initiative formed a coalition between the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs and companies and community organizations in Los Angeles over the last three years to reach the goal of hiring 10,000 local veterans. The program utilized the services of local nonprofits and government agencies to match qualified veteran candidates with open positions. The initiative also offered job training to veterans to assist them in transitioning into the civilian workforce, as well as training to companies on how to use tax incentives when hiring veterans.
Through the use of these resources and training programs, Garcetti’s 10,000 Strong Initiative ended up beating its own goal, placing 10,500 veterans with more than 200 companies in the Los Angeles region. In Garcetti’s own words from his Aug 29, 2017 Fleet Week speech, “The men and women who served our country in uniform should come home to opportunity, not obstacles. Veterans are some of the hardest-working, most qualified, and prepared people in Los Angeles — and they should have every chance to succeed in the workplace, and make a living for themselves and their families.”
Jason Hall started his career in Hollywood as an actor. Some might recognize him from his recurring role as the lead singer of a band in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. According to Hall, however, the role that truly made a difference in his life was for a University of Southern California student film in which he portrayed a Marine coming to grips with the loss of a troop. This role would serve as his entry into the fascinating and strange world of American military veterans.
Hall’s Oscar nomination for his adaptation of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s American Sniper novel for the 2014 film version served as his breakout moment as a major creative force. His success in the powerful telling of that story led him to his next project, Thank You for Your Service, a 2017 film he wrote and directed based on Washington Post reporter David Finkel’s nonfiction book by the same name, which follows the real-life plight of four soldiers returning home from the Iraq War.
Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, had followed these soldiers in the war for 10 months, then continued following them for another 13 months after they came home. What resulted was a gripping account of the challenges faced by veterans following war.
Hall’s film expanded the book’s audience to moviegoers across America, giving a prominent spotlight to the issues faced by returning veterans. It’s his dedication to the careful and accurate depiction of these true-life accounts that demonstrates his commitment to serving veterans through filmmaking. He looks to bring that same accuracy to the story of another well-known veteran: George Washington. He has spent the last year researching and writing the story of Washington’s road to becoming a leader through the French Indian war.
Zach Iscol is a combat decorated Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq and fought in the second Battle of Fallujah, where he led a combined unit of 30 American and 250 Iraqi National Guard troops, and later helped build US Marine Corps, Special Operations Command.
Through Hirepurpose, Iscol has helped over 50,000 veterans with employment through personalized career guidance, resources, and job matching. Iscol’s Headstrong Project, an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical Center, has provided cost-free world-class mental healthcare to over 600 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in 14 cities and growing around the Country. Task Purpose is a leading news, culture and lifestyle website with content aimed at military and veteran audiences, and reaching over 50 million people a month.
In 2007, Iscol’s testimony, while on active duty, before the United States Senate, helped establish the Special Immigrant Visa to safeguard and protect our Iraqi and Afghanistan translators.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Dwayne Johnson comes from a proud military family, and his goal is to give back to the military community. An actor, producer, philanthropist, and former WWE professional wrestler, Johnson uses his super-celebrity status to advocate for the importance of American freedom and to honor its protectors.
At the end of 2016, Johnson was the executive producer and host of the inaugural “Rock the Troops” event at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for 50,000 military personnel in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. For this event, which aired on Spike TV, Johnson assembled an epic cast of fellow celebrities — Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Keegan Michael-Key, Rob Riggle, Nick Jona, Flo Rider, and more all made special appearances to honor the troops.
Johnson continues his support for military members and their families through his partnership with Under Armour’s Freedom initiative, which supports the military and first responder communities by enhancing their physical and mental wellness.
After serving 25 years in the U.S. Air Force as both a public affairs NCO and officer, Mike Kelly continues serving the military community as a passionate advocate for veterans and military spouses. In his role as an executive at USAA, he leads strategic collaborations with key military, government, nonprofit, and for-profit advocacy groups.
Mike is building collaborative relationships that focus on a national dialogue surrounding important veteran and spouse issues such as financial readiness, navigating successful transitions into the civilian workforce, entrepreneurship, and supportive and impactful military spouse communities.
In 2016, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation selected Mike as the recipient of the annual Hiring Our Heroes Colonel Michael Endres Leadership Award for Individual Excellence in Veteran Employment. He currently serves on the HOH Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Councils, which focus on actions addressing the unique employment challenges veterans and military spouses face.
Mike is dedicated to connecting, equipping, and inspiring opportunities that benefit the military community at large.
Sam Meek served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Defense (NBCD) Specialist, completing two tours in Iraq. After leaving the military, Meek would eventually end up using his passion for technology to help connect members of the military community. His unique mobile app, Sandboxx, helps give new recruits in basic training — as well as deployed service members without access to their social media apps — a way to stay connected to the outside world.
Sandboxx customers, most of whom are already active users of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat, are easily able to transition to Sandboxx to communicate with out-of-reach military members. They use the app to upload photos, which get converted into a piece of physical mail, which is sent anywhere in the world it needs to go, even remote locations. Most letters are sent overnight and are delivered the next business day.
Meek launched Sandboxx Travel in 2017, which enables service members to book hotels and flights, often with military discounts, through the Sandboxx app and site. The app also helps provide a way for active and inactive members of the military to connect with any unit they have ever served. As the grandson and great grandson of military service members, Meek was intent on maintaining his connection to the Marines. He now helps people around the world do exactly that.
On April 10, 2012, while serving on his third tour with the 82nd Airborne, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was critically injured by an IED. He lost both arms and both legs in the blast, and is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive those injuries.
Mills spent much of his time during recovery at Walter Reed encouraging and hanging out with fellow injured veterans and their families, earning the nickname the “Mayor.” So it’s not much of a surprise that he ended up deciding that he wanted to do something big — not only for veterans, but their families as well. In 2013, embodying the warrior ethos of “Never give up, never quit,” Travis and his wife started the Travis Mills Foundation.
The Foundation supports veterans and their families through programs that help these heroic men and women overcome physical obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. Mills’ latest effort to support these veterans and their families is through his Foundation’s national retreat center, located in his home state of Maine.
Since June of 2017, the retreat has served injured veterans and their families, who receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacation where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy the 17-acre grounds of the estate.
You might know Bob Parsons as the larger-than-life billionaire entrepreneur who founded GoDaddy, but his legacy extends far beyond the massively successful internet domain registrar and web hosting company. Parsons served in the United States Marine Corps and, at 18 years old, deployed to Vietnam as a rifleman with Delta Company, earning a Purple Heart, a Combat Action Ribbon, and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
Parsons is passionate about creating a positive homecoming experience for veterans returning from war. This was also the inspiration behind those who started the Semper Fi Fund, a charity that provides immediate and long-term resources to post-9/11 military members who have been combat wounded, catastrophically injured, or are critically ill.
Semper Fi Fund also provides services aimed at helping vets throughout their lives, including family and caregiver support, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury care and education, adaptive housing and transportation, education and career transition assistance, mentoring and apprenticeships, and unit reunions.
As one of the highest-rated charities in the country the Semper Fi Fund’s impact is impressive. According to their website, Semper Fi Fund’s 2017 monetary assistance to service members totaled million dollars. Bob Parsons and his wife Renee are also the founders of the nonprofit organization The Bob Renee Parsons Foundation. For the sixth year in a row, the Foundation recently completed its Double Down for Veterans match campaign with the Semper Fi Fund by matching contributions dollar-for-dollar, exceeding their 2017 goal of million. The Foundation has donated more than million in total to the Semper Fi Fund since its creation. This husband-and-wife philanthropic powerhouse have given an astounding 0 million dollars to charity since 2012.
Coming from three generations of military service, Elizabeth Halperin-Perez spent nine years as an Aviation Logistic Specialist in the U.S. Navy. During a deployments to the Middle East, her friend died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole while it was refueling in Yemen’s Aden Harbor. This event, along with the deep respect for Mother Earth instilled in her from her Mono Indian Native American heritage, sparked her passion for energy policies that advance national security.
Committed to reducing conflict and future wars by furthering sustainable energy practices, Halperin-Perez went on to become the founder and president of the green-build general contracting and consulting firm GCG. Using her experience and network, she also works to help other veterans find clean energy job opportunities, and is passionate about helping them onto an entrepreneurial path. In 2017, Halperin-Perez was chosen by Governor Brown to serve on the California Veterans Board, and most recently was appointed Deputy Secretary of Minority Veterans with the California Department of Veterans Affairs, serving underrepresented veterans in a much larger capacity across California. She was also recognized at the White House in 2013 as a “Champion of Change for Advancing Clean Energy Technologies Climate Security”.
Sam Pressler began his involvement with the veteran community during his time as a student at the College of William Mary, where he majored in government and first learned about the mental health challenges faced by veterans returning from war. Pressler himself had turned to comedy to cope after a suicide in his family, and in response to the challenges affecting veterans and service members he started Comedy Bootcamp, a stand-up comedy class for veterans and their families as a way to help build community and improve well-being through comedy.
This bootcamp eventually grew into the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP), a non-profit founded and led by Pressler that helps veterans, service members, and military family members reintegrate into their communities through the arts. The organization promotes expression, skill-development, and camaraderie through classes, workshops, and performances across a variety of artistic disciplines. ASAP’s focus on consistent programs and community partnerships ensures that members of our community have continuous opportunities for artistic and personal growth.
ASAP has served more than 600 students, and put on over 800 performances for 50,000+ audience members, including a 2016 comedy show at The White House and a performance for President Jimmy Carter. Through these programs and performances, Pressler has helped to create connections and understanding between veterans and members of their local communities. Pressler was honored on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2017, as one of HillVets 100 most influential people in the veterans space in 2016, and as a recipient of the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship.
His work with ASAP has been featured by numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, ABC News, NBC, CNN, NPR, PBS, Military Times, Task Purpose, and Stars Stripes.
Jennifer Pritzker (born James Pritzker) enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions while on active duty, then at various units in the Army National Guard until retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2001. She was later promoted to the honorary rank of Colonel.
Pritzker has been a massive force multiplier through her philanthropic work as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Tawani Enterprises, Inc., President of the Tawani Foundation, and Founder and Chair of the Pritzker Military Museum Library. In these roles, Pritzker makes significant long-term differences for programs and organizations that advocate the role of military in society.
Among her notable contributions is a id=”listicle-2565932886″.3 million donation to the University of California, Santa Barbara to fund studies on how the U.S. military could openly integrate transgender members into its ranks. In 2017, the Pritzker Military Foundation donated id=”listicle-2565932886″ million to fund key initiatives for Elizabeth Dole’s Hidden Heroes campaign, which supports the caregivers of injured and ill veterans and service members. In 2018, the Foundation gave id=”listicle-2565932886″ million to the Army Historical Foundation to help with the construction of the National Museum of the United States Army in Virginia. In 2013, Pritzker came out as transgender and started living as a woman. She is the only known transgender billionaire in the world.
(Photo by Terrilyn Bayne)
Diana & Daniel Rau
Daniel Rau was inspired to serve his country when he saw the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. He joined the Marine Corps and served as a Marine Security Guard protecting embassies around the world. After his service, based on his and his friends’ experiences, he saw an opportunity to radically change the process of how Veterans enter the civilian workforce.
Diana Rau, who was honored as one of Forbes’ 2018 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, is a Georgetown graduate passionate about solving major social problems. When she met Daniel, the idea for Veterati sparked: build a technology platform to help America’s 1.5 million service members currently transitioning into the civilian workforce as well as 5.5 million underemployed military spouses navigate and break into civilian careers. (A romantic relationship that later led to their marriage also sparked — Veterati’s story is both a startup story a love story!)
Because 80% of job opportunities are never listed, but rather, are advertised and filled through personal networks, the Raus built a digital platform that empower service members and spouses to connect with multiple mentors and build social networks vital to their career search. At Veterati.com, Veterans spouses are matched with successful business people in their area of interest using smart algorithms. Mentors volunteer their time through free, one-hour phone calls facilitated by the platform. Since its 2015 launch, Veterati, which has been called the “Uber-of-mentoring,” has provided thousands of free mentoring conversations for 10k+ members and is partnered with the nation’s leading Veteran Service Organizations and Military Employers to deliver free, on-demand mentoring to our entire military community.
In 2017, Denise Rohan became the first female national commander of the 2 million-member American Legion in its 99-year history. Rohan, who served in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps for two years at the end of the Vietnam War, joined the Legion 33 years ago, working her way up from post-level membership to National Commander.
The American Legion is the nation’s largest veteran service organization and was founded on four pillars: veterans affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism, and children and youth. As their new national commander, Rohan is expanding on those four pillars through her “Family First” platform, which broadens the American Legion’s focus on service members and veterans to include family members as well. As the spouse of a veteran herself, Rohan believes that families serve too; and ensuring those family members are being taken care of at home allows for their loved ones in the fight to focus more on their mission, ultimately strengthening national security.
Rohan’s current special fundraising project is the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program, which awards cash grants to children of veterans in need to help the cost of shelter, food, utilities, and health expenses.
Major Dan Rooney
Major Dan Rooney is a U.S. Air Force Reserve F-16 fighter pilot with the Oklahoma National Guard. It was during his second tour of duty in Iraq that he felt a calling to do something in response to the devastating sacrifices he saw others make fighting for their country. This calling was solidified on a commercial flight Rooney took after returning to the U.S. The plane had just landed and the pilot announced that the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin were on board. Maj Rooney watched as the flag-draped casket slowly made its way to the awaiting family, which included the fallen hero’s son. Rooney was overwhelmed thinking about the hardship those family members would face due to their loss.
This moment irrecoverably altered Rooney’s trajectory, and he made the decision at that moment to dedicate the rest of his life to helping the family members of those who gave their lives, or were disabled in service to their nation. He recently formed a partnership with Budweiser’s Patriot Beer and in 2007 created the Folds of Honor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps the more than one million dependents adversely impacted by war through educational scholarships.
Rooney, who is also a PGA golf pro, realized that he could use his platform to help achieve the goals he had for his foundation. The first Folds of Honor golf tournament raised ,000. Since, then Folds of Honor has raised over 0 million and given away over 13,000 educational scholarships. Rooney continues to his work to uphold the mission of his foundation: “Honor their sacrifice. Educate their legacy.”
Actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise has been a strong advocate of American service members for nearly 40 years, starting with his Veterans Night program, which offers free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre, which he co-founded in Chicago. Later, his portrayal of Lt Dan in the film Forrest Gump would create a lasting connection with the disabled military community. Following 9/11 he took part in many USO tours, which led him to form The Lt. Dan Band, which entertains troops at home and abroad and raises awareness at benefit concerts across the country.
Sinise established the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, through which he continues to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, and first responders as well as their families and those in need. Whether they’re sending WWII veterans to New Orleans to tour the National WWII Museum through its Soaring Valor program or building specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans through its R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) program, Sinise continually demonstrates just how much one person’s commitment can do for an entire community. His Foundation recently added the annual Snowball Express event to its roster of programs. The annual event brings together the children and spouses of fallen military heroes each December for a fun-filled four-day event at Disney World.
Sinise’s forthcoming book Grateful American, which features the author’s life story and passionate advocacy for military service members, is slated for release in 2019.
Jon Stewart, comedian and former host of The Daily Show, is nothing less than passionate about his support for the troops. He continually uses his public platform to stress that the country does not do enough to support service members and veterans. His persistent message to America and its institutions is that supporting the troops shouldn’t be an empty saying, but rather a call to action. Stewart backs up his words with his own remarkable commitment, proving himself a truly dedicated advocate for this community.
During his long tenure as the host of the massively popular satirical news show, Stewart established an internship program for veterans trying to break into the television industry, which continues on to this day. He has also toured with USO three times, entertaining service members all over the world, bringing them laughs and a touch of home. Stewart regularly participates in benefits and campaigns aimed at raising money and awareness for issues impacting veterans.
In 2016, Stewart attended the Warrior Games, an adaptive sports competition in which injured and ill service members and veterans participate. He later pitched the idea of broadcasting the games on television to ESPN — and in 2017, they did exactly that, with Stewart serving as the emcee.
A lot of factors go in to a veteran’s post-military life. Where they choose to live when they get out of the service is important for many reasons. Veterans Affairs hospitals in some areas of the country are overcrowded and have a hard time giving fast, quality care. Access to decent schools and a quality education for the vets to use their GI bill benefits are another factor.
Analysts from WalletHub looked at 100 American cities and judged them based on four criteria: employment, economy, quality of life, and health. For each of those areas of study, the analysts looked at a number of weighted metrics, including skilled jobs, veteran unemployment rates, housing affordability, median veteran income, VA facilities, the quality of those facilities, and more.
These 10 cities may or may not surprise you, but they’re definitely worth a look!
10. Austin, Texas
This should surprise no one. Austin is a city that has been coming up in conversation for more than twenty years. From its proximity to the military bases in Texas, to its active nightlife and vibrant social scene (not to mention the SXSW Festival that comes around every year), Austin is the place to be for everyone — not just veterans.
9. Colorado Springs, Colorado
In the proverbial shadow of Pike’s Peak, Colorado Springs is the second most populous city in Colorado. It is consistently ranked as one of the top spots to live in America, not just for vets. Also, apropos of nothing, marijuana is totally legal here.
8. Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach offers more for the avid outdoor veteran than just the beach. Nearby Back Bay Wildlife Refuge offers kayaking, birdwatching, and hiking, among other activities. Even the thriving downtown entertainment offers more for vets than it did even just a few years ago.
7. Raleigh, North Carolina
“The City of Oaks” has a vast array of schools, public and private, along with nearby Chapel Hill and Durham. It also boasts a world-class technical research park that houses IBM, Cisco, Sony Ericsson, and Lenovo.
6. Plano, Texas
Yes, really. Plano and the greater Dallas area are proud handlers of U.S. military tradition. The (relatively) nearby presence of Sheppard Air Force Base, NAS Fort Worth, and JRB Carswell ensure there will be a great infrastructure for veterans who stick around the area.
5. Tampa, Florida
Tampa was the top bootlegging and rumrunning towns during prohibition. Tampa has been big on the military since Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders staged their visit to Cuba from here. On that note, Tampa is also the only place to visit Cuba in the mainland U.S. Yeah, check out José Marti Park.
4. Fremont, California
Freemont is a young city, an amalgamation of five other cities that came together in 1956. But if you’re going to be in the San Francisco area, Fremont is the furthest south you can still hop on the BART.
3. Seattle, Washington
I’m not sure this one needs an explanation. Seattle is home to Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon, and more. It’s probably more difficult to get a job at that fish market where they throw fish at each other.
2. San Diego, California
The town that brings you Navy SEALs might have just stolen Amazon from Seattle. So they might be up a level on this list next year.
1. Boise, Idaho
Boise being in the top ten might have surprised you, but it didn’t surprise anyone in Boise. The residents enjoy a high quality of life, which includes the Greenbelt – a 25-mile long strip of wildlife habitats and bike paths along the Boise River.
Stokes said he chose to include Henline alongside amputee vets in response to Facebook comments he received about his earlier work, “Always Loyal.”
“One comment I got was ‘Hey, you’re hand-picking these gorgeous men [for the photos], why don’t you feature someone who’s burned?’ ” Stokes said. “Bobby and I had already been talking for six months at that point, so I thought it was a great opportunity to follow up and … do something a bit different.”
Check out Henline’s pose below:
“Bobby is very popular and is able to stand alongside any of these guys and pull off the photo shoot,” Stokes said. “He pulls off sexy. He looks great.”
Stokes said that the goal of projects like “Invictus” is to give veterans a platform that could jumpstart modeling careers and lead to mainstream campaigns.
This dream came true for double-amputee veteran and “Always Loyal” alum Chris Van Etten, who recently landed a Jockey underwear campaign after a Stokes photo shoot.
“When the Jockey campaign launched, I had all of these people tagging me on Facebook saying ‘You made this possible, you led the way on this, you broke the ice on this.,’ ” Stokes said. “And all of these people were giving me credit for making it not taboo for a corporation to do a campaign and photo shoots like this.”
“This is evidence that people are happy that these guys are getting exposure and getting mainstream gigs,” he added.
Despite enthusiasm from both within and outside of the military community, Stokes said there are still those who are uncomfortable with his “cheeky” shots of wounded vets.
“When you have a photo that goes viral, that’s when you hear negative comments,” Stokes said. “Some people have said things like ‘This is not respectful to the uniform; this is not dignified.’ … [But] they’re definitely the minority voice.”
Stokes said he doesn’t focus on his critics, but on the experience of his models in front of the camera.
The photo shoot “is different with each model,” Stokes said.
“One of the models is a double amputee — and way high up. And during the shoot he said ‘I didn’t know I looked like that from behind,’ ” Stokes explained. “He’s missing part of his hip … and he didn’t know he had such a nice butt.”
Stokes hopes “Invictus” will continue to change public perceptions and normalize glamour shots of amputee models.
Sgt. Matt Abbate once said being a Marine was the only thing he had ever been good at.
More than good, most recall the scout sniper as a legend. His fellow Marines refer to him as “a physical animal and natural leader with a killer instinct and devilish grin,” the “perfect Marine … built like a brick shithouse,” and a person who could “instantly touch someone’s life.” Maj. Thomas Schueman, who was a platoon commander in the company he supported, describes Abbate as a “modern-day Achilles.”
Abbate belonged to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3/5), which was sent to the Taliban hotbed of the Sangin district, located along a belt of verdant opium fields in southern Afghanistan’s arid Helmand province, in fall 2010.
For months, 3/5 took a highly kinetic fight to their entrenched, emboldened, and deadly enemy. By April 2011, the battalion had pushed the Taliban back, and elements of civil society returned to the district.
Progress came at the devastating expense of 25 Marines dead and more than 180 wounded. Among the 25 was Abbate, who died Dec. 2, 2010.
To honor Abbate’s legacy, an all-volunteer team of civilians and veterans, including over half a dozen Marines from 3/5’s Sangin deployment, is creating a virtual and physical community where every veteran can find purpose and connection.
Schueman, who may be better known by his @kill.z0n3 Instagram handle, is the president of Patrol Base Abbate, which he founded in November 2020. In an interview with Coffee or Die Magazine, he explained how the 501(c)(3) nonprofit will fill veterans’ need for connection, and how the memory of Abbate inspires what he expects will become the nation’s largest veteran organization.
A NEED FOR SOMETHING NEW
After Schueman returned from his Sangin deployment in 2011, he “noticed a lot of [his] Marines were struggling with transition” to civilian life. He only began understanding those difficulties himself while studying veteran trauma narratives at Georgetown University in 2018.
By 2020, the idea for PB Abbate was underway, inspired by the work of Dr. Jonathan Shay, a Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist who found veterans undergo the most healing when they are in community with one another.
During the same year, Schueman lost one Marine from 3/5, and two Marines from his time as a company commander, to suicide. As he looked into available resources for veterans, Schueman discovered “there was a ton of really great stuff for our special forces, or our wounded,” but “not so much … for people who just served.”
Suicide, however, was an issue that affected veterans regardless of whether they saw combat, or experienced trauma. A time when they particularly needed support was during transition, when veterans were five times more likely to consider suicide.
Veterans were missing their community, Schueman believed, and PB Abbate would become a place where all veterans and transitioning service members could build the connections and strong bonds of trust they experienced during their service.
THE PB ABBATE MODEL
First, Schueman wanted veterans to have a physical space they could “claim as [their] own.” That space is the patrol base, a sparse cabin on a plot of land donated by a 3/5 veteran in rugged and picturesque Thompson Falls, Montana.
A place for veterans to “rest and refit,” PB Abbate will host small groups of veterans who sign up for the organization’s online, interest-based clubs. At four initial retreats during summer 2021, veterans chosen by random lottery will build up the patrol base and delve into their interests with support from subject matter experts.
Because PB Abbate cannot physically host every member, it was important to create an online component, where Schueman said, “veterans [can] connect any time, day or night, no matter where” they are.
On message boards within the PB Abbate website, veterans can join a fight, gun, strength, or book club to discuss their favorite pursuits. The book club, for instance, is currently reading Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.
The final component of PB Abbate is a series of countrywide local and regional chapters, with initial hubs in Texas and New York. While he hopes these chapters will be platforms for social bonding, Schueman also expects PB Abbate members to serve their communities to “shift the narrative around veterans as people who are waiting for handouts, who are victims, when instead we are people of action who continue to serve.”
With several hundred veterans currently involved, PB Abbate expects to see growth in coming months as the group forms relationships with local veteran organizations around the country and propels its message throughout the community with the help of veteran social media influencers. As quickly as standard operating procedures and capable leaders are identified, the organization will expand to additional cities and regions and increase the number of online clubs it offers.
PB Abbate’s clubs, retreats, and regional chapters are free of cost, and open to all veterans. No matter how you served, Schueman emphasized, “You rate our services. You rate this community.”
Schueman said the organization is “already fulfilling its mission” by bringing a powerful sense of “healing and restoration and connection and community” to the 3/5 Marines involved.
In their actions, Abbate’s humble, relentless spirit lives on.
FOLLOWING SGT. MATT ABBATE
Matt Abbate is remembered for his spirited retellings of “hellasick” gunfights. He is infamous for the “gunfighting commandments” and “rules of war” he scrawled on the walls of a Sangin patrol base.
On the battlefield, Abbate was fearless. On Oct. 14, 2010, Taliban gunfire drew a patrol into a Sangin minefield where improvised explosive devices wounded four Marines, including the patrol leader. Abbate took charge, exposing himself to enemy gunfire, and directed fellow Marines’ fire while sweeping the minefield to secure a landing zone for an incoming medical evacuation helicopter. For his actions, Abbate was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
Never stingy with his extraordinary skills, Abbate was quick to mentor and help other Marines.
“It didn’t matter who you were,” Schueman said, Abbate would “give you time.” Like its namesake, PB Abbate will “recognize the value in everybody.”
As the team builds an organization befitting his legacy, in Big Sky Country, the spirit of Matt Abbate is a bright, blazing beacon for all veterans looking to rediscover their purpose and get back to the fight.
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Ashley is named after Army 1LT Ashley White.
1st Lt. Ashley White was killed during combat operations in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on October 22, 2011 when the assault force she was supporting triggered an improvised explosive device. Ashley was assigned to the 230th Brigade Support Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina National Guard, Goldsboro, NC and served as a member of a Cultural Support Team attached to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. As a Cultural Support Team Member on her first deployment to Afghanistan, White selflessly served. Ashley’s actions exemplify the highest commitment to duty, honor, and country. In every instance she served with distinction in support of the Task Force and our great nation.
The spirit of giving is strong at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
Carts filled with presents were wheeled out of the South Entrance and into vehicles waiting to take them to children and Veterans alike. The gifts are the result of a pair of outreach programs.
Employees in the hospital’s Logistics Department provided a bounty of gifts for 55 children served by Children’s Wisconsin’s Community Services Division.
Meanwhile, presents purchased via an annual giving tree organized by recreational therapist Sara LeClaire and the City of West Allis were bound for Veterans in the Community Living Centers, Palliative Care Unit and the Community Homes.
Gifts for children
“This is such a wonderful giving opportunity for us,” said Stacey Snyder, program support assistant in Logistics and chairwoman of the annual Children’s event. “During these times, when things feel a little grim, this is an opportunity to know every kid will get a gift.”
Volunteers load donated gifts into a car.
Like a traditional giving tree, Children’s provides names and ages of the children, along with a short list of items they desire. Employees then choose a child (or children) and purchases the gifts.
The children are typically involved in foster care, child and family counseling, child abuse prevention programs and special needs adoptions. Most live in poverty and have had “difficult and challenging” life experiences according to Children’s.
This is the fourth year for the outreach, which has grown to the point where Children’s runs out of names to provide to Snyder and her crew.
“Our motto is no one is left behind,” she said. “It’s become bigger and bigger. We have more people wanting to buy than there are kids.”
Snyder noted that one employee, who wants to remain anonymous, makes the event a family affair, selecting 11 children this year and involving his brothers, sisters and extended family.
Some employees write personal notes to the children.
“This creates a connection between us and the community,” Snyder said, noting that some employees grew up served by Children’s Community Services and are eager to give back. “There are some tears involved. This brings up a lot of memories for people.”
“This is wonderful,” said Sondra Russell, a social worker at Children’s after receiving the gifts Monday. “They’re very generous, and we’re very thankful.
“Our families will be very thankful as well,” added Children’s social worker Tanya Edwards. “Resources are limited for our families, so this is amazing.”
Gifts for Vets
Some employees wrote personal notes to accompany the gifts for children.
While Snyder and her crew loaded up gifts for Children’s, LeClaire and recreation therapy assistant Francheska Wallace were gathering gifts for Veterans.
For the last 10 years, LeClaire has organized the outreach with the City of West Allis. It also involves a giving tree, which went virtual this year due to the pandemic.
LeClaire provides a list of Veterans and crafts wish lists, enabling community members to select names and purchase the gifts. The list is based on each Veteran’s interests and needs.
This year, all of the names were snapped up within two hours of being posted, Wallace said.
“The organizer from West Allis called me and said all the tags were taken,” LeClaire said.
Many people buy more than one gift, seeking to fill out as many wish lists as possible.
“They buy them all. It’s amazing what we get. It’s really a wonderful program,” Wallace added. “It blows my mind how generous people are, and this year with COVID, they’ve been even more generous. It’s incredible and such a wonderful thing.”
While deployed, there’s always a bit of joy that buzzes around the squad when a care package arrives. Troops gather around their squad leader as they disperse the sweets, trinkets, and amenities given by the charitable folks back home. It’s not uncommon for battle-hardened warfighters to genuinely crack an enormous smile when they receive something that reminds them of home.
Recently, certain regulations consolidated the shipping rates for packages being sent to an Army Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO) or Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) mailing address — which only put added financial strain on those kind-willed folks sending packages. The costs can also really add up for charities who send mass quantities of care packages. Ultiltaemy, this means fewer care packages being sent to the troops still fighting overseas today.
There is a glimmer of hope. U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross of New Jersey’s First District recently introduced the “Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2019,” or H.R. 400, that aims to greatly reduce the costs and spread more cheer among the troops.
The secret to make a bunch of grown badasses smile like children? Girl Scout cookies…
(Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs)
All shipping rates for packages that crossed different shipping zones drastically increased January, 2018. While a package going to Michigan from California saw an increase of .60, any package sent from Smalltown, USA, to troops stationed in the Middle East had to pay nearly double.
Logistically speaking, the care package left the hands of postal employees long before they were dispersed at mail call. Any package sent would arrive at a postal gateway before being given to military personnel to complete its journey to a remote destination. The added costs are mostly meaningless seeing as the package is delivered by US military personnel once it leaves the US.
Congressman Tom MacArthur of New Jersey’s Third District tried last year to reverse these increases with a similar bit of legislation — Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018, or H.R.6231. He aimed to curtail the costs and make it much cheaper to send troops a care package. This legislation would have listed any package to (or from) an APO/FPO/DPO address as Zone 1/2, making the weight of the package a non-factor in shipping costs so long as the contents fit inside a flat-rate box. This bill, unfortunately, did not succeed and MacArthur was unsuccessful in his reelection campaign.
The cost to send care packages remains unreasonably high, and organizations like the Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey have had to reduce the number of packages sent purely because of the financial red tape.
Because our troops are still out there, and they need your support.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Meredith Brown)
Now the torch to raise the morale of troops has been passed to fellow New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross, a chair on the 115th Congressional Committee of Armed Services.
He’s proposed “Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2019,” which aims to cut the red tape and make the price of sending a care package comparable to the cost of sending a letter.
This bill will positively affect the lives of the countless troops still in harm’s way. Please contact your representative and let them know that you support “Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2019”, or H.R. 400.
David Burnett was a U.S. Army Special Operations Crew Chief with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. You might know it better as the “Night Stalkers.” He even wrote a book about his time with the Night Stalkers. His latest project isn’t about the Army, however. It’s for the Army, for the military. It’s an invention borne of necessity – as all great inventions are – and could save lives.
In short, David Burnett wants you out of his helicopter as soon as possible.
While he was in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, troops would board his Chinook for the ride, normally hanging their go bags and other gear inside with carabiners and bungee cord. These are the usual, practical things with which American troops deploy to combat zones. While sitting in a brightly-lit flightline with the cabin lights on, this was no big deal. But U.S. troops, especially special operators, don’t fly to the enemy with the cabin lights on. They’re usually flying in at night, blacked out. It was in those situations David Burnett realized he and his Chinook were spending a lot more time on the ground than they wanted.
The good guys were having trouble releasing their stowed gear. It was still connected to the aircraft. All the old methods of fixing their gear didn’t offer quick-release functionality. David Burnett decided he was going to do something about that.
The Tac Clamp was born.
Burnett’s creation isn’t just a metal clamp. It can be hooked and fastened for quick release, or it can be placed on a tactical track for movement in a ready room, a hangar, arms room, or even the back of an aircraft. With the push of a button, the Tac Clamp will release its iron grip and let the special operator free to bring the fight to the enemy – and it works. It works really well. Burnett’s clamp has been submitted to aircrews at MacDill Air Force Base for review and is currently being field-tested by Navy Search and Rescue teams.
“I deployed with the 160th five times as a crew chief, and I saw this problem constantly on the aircraft and on vehicles too,” Burnett says. ” The reason was because all of these outdated methods they were using don’t offer quick release and is not very intuitive. This is something you clamp inside the aircraft but is not exclusive to the aircraft. If they were doing a ground assault and they can hook the Tac Clamp in their gear and just push a button to release it.”
Burnett even created a Tac Clamp for aerial photography.
Currently, Burnett is working on getting one of the military branches to accept the Tac Clamp for consideration for small-business contracting programs. He currently has two proposals submitted, one for the Air Force and two for the Army. It’s been a long road for Burnett, but he hasn’t given up. What he’s offering is something he’s seen a need for in the military, one that could potentially save American lives. He’s already getting feedback on his aluminum clamp from troops in the field.
“Troops tell me they need a small version, made of hard plastic, one they can attach to their kit,” says Burnett, who enjoys the innovation. “All branches of service, they’re realizing they can streamline innovation process by allowing small businesses to propose their technologies and get new products and innovative technologies fielded within 18 months.”