Women Veteran Leaders Honored as “Champions of Change”



On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, the White House, partnering with VA, honored 10 local Veteran industry leaders as “Women Veteran Leader Champions of Change,” highlighting their incredible contributions to our nation’s business, public and community service sectors.

On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, the White House, partnering with VA, honored 10 local Veteran industry leaders as “Women Veteran Leader Champions of Change,” highlighting their incredible contributions to our nation’s business, public and community service sectors. From the left are Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, CEO and Founder of Gracefully Global Group LLC; Dana L. Niemela, MSW, Coordinator of the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program, Denver, Co.; Erica Borggren, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs; Coral Wong Pietsch, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Honolulu, Hi.; Sonia Jo Kendrick, Founder of Feed Iowa First, Hiawatha, Iowa; Stacey Young-McCaughan, Director of Research for the STRONG STAR Consortium, Llano, Texas; Army Col. Rich Morales, executive director, Joining Forces; Ellen Houlihan, Vice-Chair, Board of Directors, West Point Association of Graduates, Allen, Texas; Gina S. Farrisee, VA’s Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration; Elisa Basnight, director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans; Mary Johanna Forbes, Assistant Director for Veterans Services for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs; Martha Daniel, President and CEO Information Management Resources, Inc., Aliso Viejo, Calif. Not pictured is Deborah Scott Thomas, Founder, President & Chief Executive Officer of Data Solutions & Technology, Inc., Edgewater, Md.

Today, the White House honors 10 local Veteran industry leaders as “Women Veteran Leader Champions of Change,” and highlights their incredible contributions to our nation’s business, public and community service sectors.

Women Veterans are one of the fastest-growing populations of Veterans. Now 10 percent, by 2020, they will constitute more than 12 percent of all Veterans. In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “We are stronger when America fields a full team.”

As we move to leverage the power of a fully represented “Team America,” VA is advancing the cause of our 2.2 million women Veterans.

As the nation celebrates Women’s History Month this March, it’s important to salute women Veterans for their accomplishments and contributions to society. They have broken barriers and capitalized on the many leadership opportunities afforded through military service. We know that women Veterans are models of character, courage and commitment who continue to blaze trails and open doors.

America depends on the traits Veterans embody – dependability, resourcefulness, diligence, a team focus and a can-do attitude – to make good on the president’s efforts to re-energize our economy. After serving our country in uniform, women Veterans go on to serve our communities and our workplaces as a positive force for America’s strong and growing middle class.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. You can watch a live-streamed on the White House website at 10 a.m. EDT. To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program and nominate someone as a champion, visit the Champions of Change website.

The 10 “Champions of Change” to be honored are:

Erica Borggren, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Chicago, Ill.

A Rhodes Scholar and West Point graduate, Erica Borggren currently serves as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. There, she spearheaded the creation of Illinois Joining Forces, a statewide public-private network of nearly 200 organizations working together to serve service members, Veterans, and their families better; a nationally awarded program, IJF serves to create a collaborative, “no wrong door” system of military and veteran support. Under Borggren’s leadership, the department has also created very successful women Veterans and Veteran entrepreneurship programs. Prior to her leadership in Governor Quinn’s Administration, Borggren served as a speechwriter for General David Petraeus in Iraq and as a company commander in Korea.

Martha Daniel, President and CEO Information Management Resources, Inc., Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Martha Daniel’s 35-year career in information technology began during her time as a cryptologist in the U. S. Navy and has spanned both corporate and government sectors. In 1992, she founded Information Management Resources, Inc. to provide technical support for the financial industry. Today, IMRI delivers comprehensive technical and engineering support services specializing in cyber security, data center operations and consolidations, program management, and telecommunications for the federal government and civilian agencies as well as the private sector.

Daniel is responsible for managing the corporation’s strategic vision and was recently recognized by the Santa Ana District in 2013 as finalist Small Business Person of the Year by the U. S. Small Business Administration. A published author and frequent speaker, Daniel co-authored two books, “On the Other Side of Midnight 2000, An Executive Guide to the Year 2000 Problem,” and the recently-released, “Million Dollar Conversations.” As a service-disabled veteran entrepreneur, Martha Daniel is committed to serving the interest of other Veteran entrepreneurs and has served as president and currently as executive vice president of the Elite Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business Network, Orange County Chapter.

Mary Johanna Forbes, Assistant Director for Veterans Services for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, Dupont, Wash.

Retired Army Col. Mary Forbes graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1983, the U.S. Army War College in 2006 and served on active duty with the U.S. Army and the Washington Army National Guard for more than 26 years. As the assistant director for Veterans services for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, Forbes champions the federal and state initiatives to end Veteran homelessness. Her efforts have resulted in communities greatly expanding their capacity to serve homeless Veterans and significantly reduced the number of homeless Veterans in the state over the last four years.

To prepare for reductions in military forces, Forbes spearheaded an effort at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to help transitioning Veterans identify employment and education options for life after military service. Forbes’ guiding principles of building partnerships, fostering productive relationships and providing world class customer service at the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs has proven to be a success for the Veterans and their families in Washington state.

Ellen Houlihan, Vice-Chair, Board of Directors, West Point Association of Graduates, Allen, Texas

Ellen Houlihan is the first West Point woman graduate to be elected to a senior leadership role of the 50,000 West Point graduate members. Her service includes leading the overhaul of association bylaws and governance model, which had been unchanged since the Civil War. This provided efficient and effective operational transparency of the board of directors and management staff. She led the largest and most diverse committee of the board of directors charged with membership, graduate awards, diversity and inclusion, and 130 alumni clubs around the world. In her role as vice-chair, Houlihan leads the effort to identify and recruit for skills needed for the organization’s continued growth and relevance to West Point and the nation. She was also the first woman West Point graduate elected president of her West Point class and first woman president of a local alumni club.

Sonia Jo Kendrick, Founder of Feed Iowa First, Hiawatha, Iowa

Sonia Kendrick deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. There she experienced firsthand what food insecurity looks like. She was surprised to come home to the U.S. and find that her state of Iowa had 400,000 food insecure people and that more than 90 percent of the state’s food is imported. Kendrick earned a degree in agronomy and is currently working towards her master’s degree in sustainable food systems. She sits on her county’s food systems council, is a “Sister of the Planet” for Oxfam, helped found Iowa’s Women’s Veteran Farmer Coalition, founded “Feed Iowa First,” through which she has grown thousands of pounds of vegetables for donation to food banks and Meals on Wheels, and most importantly is the single mother of two girls.

Stacey Young-McCaughan, Director of Research for the STRONG STAR Consortium, Llano, Texas

Stacey Young-McCaughan, RN, Ph.D., is a retired Army colonel and professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Medicine, where she also serves as director of for the STRONG STAR Consortium (South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience). The consortium is a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research group designed to understand, prevent and treat combat-related PTSD and comorbid conditions among military Servicemembers and recently discharged Veterans who have deployed in to Iraq and Afghanistan.

STRONG STAR supports 24 ongoing projects; more than 20 collaborating civilian, military and VA institutions; and more than 100 partnering investigators. To date, more than 1,000 Servicemembers and Veterans have participated in clinical trials testing treatments for combat-related PTSD. Young-McCaughan leads her own research program testing exercise interventions in the recovery from various conditions including PTSD. With expertise she acquired during her 29 years as an officer with the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, including key leadership appointments related to research and evidence-based practices, Young-McCaughan plays a critical role in all STRONG STAR research projects as she helps direct academic and military investigators in the conduct of scientifically sound, military-relevant and ethical research.

Dana L. Niemela, MSW, Coordinator of the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program, Denver, Co.

Dana Louise Niemela, MSW, is a Navy Veteran and coordinator of the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program for the Denver Department of Human Services. As the program coordinator, Niemela has worked to create a substantial supportive services network throughout the Metro Denver region to meet the needs of the hundreds of homeless Veterans her program has served throughout her tenure. She has leveraged her relationships with community partners that include federal, state and local governments, non-profit organizations and the private sector to increase employment opportunities, increase access to and funding for behavioral health programs serving the military and veteran community, and provide Veterans of all eras and socio-economic backgrounds access to community and service opportunities. Her efforts have earned her national recognition for efforts towards community building and coordinated service delivery.

Niemela also serves on the Colorado Board of Veterans’ Affairs, is the Homeless Coordinator for VFW Post 1, the Veteran Outreach Coordinator for the Denver Chapter of Team Red, White & Blue, and a volunteer for Team Rubicon.

Coral Wong Pietsch, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Honolulu, Hi.

Coral Wong Pietsch serves as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and has had a lifetime of distinguished public service at the state, national and international levels. She began her public service when she joined the military and served on active duty in the Army as a judge advocate. Later, she continued her service in the Army Reserve and rose to the rank of brigadier general, becoming the first woman in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps to be promoted to general officer and the first woman of Asian ancestry to be promoted to general officer in the Army. In 2007, as a Department of Defense civilian, she volunteered to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and served as deputy rule of law coordinator for the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team.

In cooperation with the Iraqi Bar Association, she helped establish a first-ever legal aid clinic at one of Iraq’s largest detention facilities, a clinic that has continued to operate. On the state level, she served as the chair of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. During the time she served, the commission improved its administrative process, eliminated backlogs and implemented public education and awareness programs. Pietsch was appointed to the bench in July 2012.

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, CEO and Founder of Gracefully Global Group LLC, Hayward, Calif.

Daughter of Mexican immigrants, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is CEO and founder of Gracefully Global Group LLC, which publishes award-winning, multicultural books and eBooks for K – college readers showcasing positive contributions of highly-educated Latinos. She’s won four international book awards for “Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them”; recently released “Good Night Captain Mama/Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá”, the first bilingual children’s book about women serving in the military which was inspired by her service as an Air Force KC-135 navigator and instructor. She received an Air Medal for combat air operations over Iraq.

Tiscareño-Sato is a bilingual STEM consultant for K-college educators serving diverse student populations. She is also a forceful education advocate for children with special needs and other children who face low expectations. sHE leads students, especially children of immigrants like her, to aspire far beyond their current circumstances. Her aspirational literature sparks imaginations and presents educated minority role models in 21st century professions.

As founder of a Latina/veteran-owned publishing company, she’s redefining who supplies our schools and libraries with much-needed multicultural literature. Tiscareño-Sato completed both AFROTC Aerospace Studies and her bachelor degree in Environmental design and architecture from U.C. Berkeley; and she earned her master degree in international business management at Whitworth University while stationed in Spokane, Washington.

Deborah Scott Thomas, Founder, President & Chief Executive Officer of Data Solutions & Technology, Inc., Edgewater, Md.

Deborah Scott Thomas retired as a colonel from the Air Force Reserve in 2006, having served her country for three decades. She is the founder, president & chief executive officer of Data Solutions & Technology Incorporated, a management consulting firm located in Lanham, Md. For the past 20 years, Thomas has been respected for her business acumen and is considered a leader with expertise in building successful client teams while focusing on strategic operations and execution. She dedicates her time to educational and philanthropic causes particularly Historically Black Colleges and Universities and science, technology, engineering and math initiatives. Further, she is a devoted supporter of the March of Dimes and has participated in an array of programs to support its goals and mission for the past 30 years.

Recently, Thomas was recognized by the Washington Business Journal as one of the 2014 Minority Business Leaders and the 2013 Most Admired CEO Readers’ Choice Award for Professional Services. She was recognized as the 2013 Business Leader of the Year by the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce. Also, she was appointed by Maryland Governor O’Malley to the Maryland Military Installation Council.

Author

Yvonne Levardi