Training leaders to help transitioning servicemembers and their families is the mission – and building a community of life-long support is the powerful offshoot of the George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program.

The 2023 class was recently announced, including 34 civilians, veterans and active military, all focused on supporting veterans and their families.

“We started this program to train leaders who will help solve transition-related issues that military families face,” said Eva Chiang, managing director of leadership and programming for the institute. “It is a way to inspire people.”

This is the fifth cohort to go through the program, and they’ll gather in July to hear from leaders such as U.S. Navy Captain and NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy, the eighth United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, retired United States Air Force General Alfred Flowers, and Bush Institute Senior Fellow Dr. Deborah Birx.

The five-month program includes sessions at the Bush Center and a session in Washington, D.C., Chiang said. Applicants were chosen based on an application and review process, she said, and each one has a personal leadership project they will continue to develop as part of the process.

After they leave the program in November 2023, Chiang said they join a network of 170 alums, who work on improving veteran outcomes – and can rely on each other for continued support and inspiration.

“It was a really amazing experience,” said Eric Goralnick, a civilian military advisor at the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation and an associate professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School.

He was in the previous cohort in 2022, working on a project to build a civilian/military initiative at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital for veterans interested in health care careers.

As the participants work through the program, they continue to hone their personal leadership projects, Chiang said. And then, when the program is over, they have a network to continue collaborating and helping one another – a network that will continue to grow.

“And that’s really important, because they can call on one another,” she said. “These are mission-oriented folks who are tightly connected.”

The personal leadership projects range from large scale global projects to boots-on-the-ground intensely local work, Chiang said.

The program is funded through donations and is free for participants.

Goralnick, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served before going to medical school, said of the 200,000 veterans who leave service each year, about 10,000 have experience as allied health care professionals. His effort is focused on helping those veterans transition into health care careers.

“Going through this program really helped me shape a vision and it helped me develop an action plan to bring my vision to life,” he said. “And it gave me the time and space to meet with colleagues who share similar interests and are working through similar challenges.

“It’s like having a phone-a-friend connection for life.”

Blas Villalobos, who was also in last year’s class, agreed. His project is focused on providing low- or no-cost mental health treatment to veterans. The cohort was able to help him exceed his goals, including holding a fundraising concert in October 2022.

“I had a 3-year goal when I started,” said Villalobos, a former U.S. Marine. “But we made it happen sooner.”

He said the networking component was key, allowing him to expand his network and support his mission.

“It’s really incredible,” said Villalobos, who is the CEO of Centerstone’s Military Services. “I can only see this growing. The collective power of this group is amazing and I know it will continue.”

The 2023 class of the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program includes:

· Quiana Abner, Program Manager of Onward to Opportunity in the Texas Region, D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), San Antonio, Texas

· Kellie Artis, Director of Communications, Virtual Veterans Communities, Fayetteville, North Carolina

· Jennifer Barnhill, Freelance Journalist and Lead Researcher, and Partners in PROMISE, Pacific Grove, California

· Bobby Ehrig, Executive Director, Citizens for Progress, Bulverde, Texas

· Pete Faerber, Founder and President, The Warriors’ Lawyer, Lithia, Florida

· Victoria Harvey, Deputy Director, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Kapolei, Hawaii

· Marnie Holder, Veteran Services Program Officer, National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Columbus, Ohio

· Desiree Holley, Director of Operations, Operation Healing Forces, Brandon, Florida

· Seth Kastle, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and Director of Military Program Innovation, Fort Hays State University, WaKeeney, Kansas

· Jermaine King, Chief, Public Protection and Safety (Senior Enlisted Leader), United States Air Force, Edwards Air Force Base, California

· Stan Kurtz, Programs Director of Office of Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration, Dumfries, Virginia

· Michael Logan, Senior Director for Veteran and Military Affairs, The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas

· Mollie Marti, Chief Executive Officer, Worldmaker International, Mount Vernon, Iowa

· Selene Martin, Corporate Responsibility Director, USAA, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas

· Jessica Lynn McNulty, Commander, United States Navy, Clifton, Virginia

· Josh Michael, Clinical Sales Associate, Intuitive Surgical, Argyle, Texas

· Michelle Mills, Senior Recruiter, Amazon, Tucson, Arizona

· Rachel Moyal-Smith, Senior Clinical Implementation Specialist, Ariadne Labs, Slingerlands, New York

· Reggie Ordonez, Chief Operations Officer, Bunker Labs, White House, Tennessee

· Jennifer Pluta, Director of Veteran Career Services, Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, Syracuse University, Brewerton, New York

· Taheesha Quarells, Director of Troops to Teachers, Department of Defense Military to Civilian Transition Office, Pensacola, Florida

· Kris Rick, Veterans Employment and Training Services - Training and Partnership Lead, U.S. Department of Labor, Oakton, Virginia

· Curtez Riggs, Director of Military Events, Recurrent Ventures, Live Oak, Texas

· DeLisa Duncan Russell, Group Chief Executive Officer, Promises Behavioral Health, Spring, Texas

· Gilbert Saguid, Founder, Veterans Franchise Group, San Diego, California

· Abi Scott, Chief, Enlisted Force Development, U.S. Space Force, Fort Belvoir, Virginia

· Jackson Smith, Executive Director, Bastion Community of Resilience, New Orleans, Louisiana

· Sarah Streyder, Executive Director, Secure Families Initiative, Alexandria, Virginia

· Cappy Surette, Senior Manager, External Communications for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, The Walt Disney Company, Windermere, Florida

· Chi Szeto, Management Analyst, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Torrance, California

· Eric Templeton, Cybersecurity Business Development Manager, Cisco, Garner, North Carolina

· Susan Thaxton, Chief Strategy Officer, The Mission Continues, Annapolis, Maryland

· Tracy Threatt, Counselor, Central Piedmont Community College, Concord, North Carolina

· Olivia Valerio, Military Bridges Program Project Manager, H-E-B, San Antonio, Texas

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