U.S. Air Force Captain (Ret.) Joni Marquez is an award-winning U.S. Air Force Captain who recently medically retired after serving 14 years of combined military service as an enlisted member in the Air Mobility Command Grand Forks Air Force Base (AFB), ND, and as an officer in the Special Operations Command at Cannon AFB, NM, and Hurlburt Field, FL.
After enlisting in the Air Force in 1998 as a Security Forces member, Marquez joined its anti-terrorism team called the Phoenix Ravens, and provided security for USAF aircraft and personnel while deployed to austere locations all over the world.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on American soil, Marquez decided she wanted to have a greater reach on the global war on terror, and left the military to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social welfare at UC Berkeley.
In 2008, she was commissioned into the USAF and became a Fire Control Officer on the AC-130H gunship where she provided Close Air Support for ground forces in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During her first of two deployments, she was on a mission that would forever change her life—the downing of Extortion 17 (EN 17), a mission where the U.S. military lost 31 American heroes. The downing of EN 17 was the single most catastrophic loss of American lives in one night during the war, and the trauma from that night led to the slow decline of the talented Captain’s military flying career.
Almost four years later, Marquez was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and decided that once she got out of the military she would use her experiences to help educate and create awareness surrounding the American warfighter.
Marquez left the military as a decorated veteran and as an expert in military intelligence, security, foreign affairs, unconventional warfare, anti-terrorism and counterterrorism. She continues her fight for freedom stateside, and advocates for the warriors that have both the seen and the unseen wounds from war, including contributions to Boot Campaign as a Veteran Ambassador.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, the Bradley, Calif., native also earned a master’s in business from Trident University International, and is currently enrolled at the University of Southern California in pursuit of a master’s degree in military social work.
Cpl. (Ret.) Kyle Blair comes from a family that has served in the U.S. military since World War II, and the lifelong Texan recently joined the Boot Campaign family as a Veteran Ambassador.
Blair entered the U.S. Marine Corp Reserves shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, following in the footsteps of his great uncle Edwin “Eddie” Mauterer, Jr., who was one of the first frogmen for the U.S. Navy in WWII. His grandfather, Marine Captain (Ret.) Philip Musmeci, fought in the Korean War, and his late father, Army Sgt. John “Doug” Blair, served in Vietnam. Keeping it all in the family, his twin brother Cpl. ( Ret.) John “Ryan” Blair also served in his same Marine Corp Reserves unit, and his father-in-law, Sgt. (Ret.) Gerald Whitehead, was also a Marine and served in Vietnam.
Kyle became a Fire Team Leader with Scout Platoon, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, in his native Tyler, Texas. He deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005, just two weeks after earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing and business administration from Texas Tech University, where he also was elected as a senator to the student government association for three terms, and was named to the Business Deans Roundtable and many chair positions in the Kappa Sigma fraternity.
As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Blair’s duties included patrols in and around Al Anbar Province, as well as setting up vehicle checkpoints, quick reaction forces and forward operating bases. His unit had the great fortune to be joined by “Taco,” a Belgian Malinois working dog on loan from the Air force, who he recalls, “saved many of their lives, and was just as miserable and hot as we were.”
Blair retired from the military in 2007, and is currently working in the oil and gas industry in Houston, Texas. He started his oilfield career as a roughneck in the summers between semesters and on holiday breaks from college. He has more than 10 years of down hole technology experience coming up through the ranks of field sales to executive sales.
He and his wife, Kristen, have been married 10 years and have two children, Caroline and Philip. An avid hunter, fisherman and golfer, Blair enjoys faith, friends, colleagues and family, especially his mother, Mary Ann Blair, who has skillfully managed a house full of veterans for many years. He also is proud to giving back to the military community as a Veteran Ambassador for Boot Campaign.
Sgt. (Ret.) Daniel “Danny” Schrader is a Boot Campaign Veteran Ambassador after serving a total of 16 years in two different branches of the U.S. military, retiring in 2011 as a U.S. Army sergeant. He finished his career with two terms in the Army Reserves between 1996-2000 and 2006-2011, participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-2008.
A native of Flagstaff, Ariz., Schrader started his military career in the U.S. Navy from 1989-1996. He enlisted in the Navy right out of high school and served seven years on active duty. He then joined the Army Reserve and served a total of nine years as a parachute rigger and an MP.
Between his two stints in the Army Reserves, Schrader served as an Arizona Highway Patrolman stationed in Parker, Ariz.
When he ultimately retired from the Army Reserves in 2011, he found himself with very little to do to stay occupied. He was physically hurt, and carried a lot of anger and hatred from his deployment. He began tinkering around with woodworking, and found that it was not only therapeutic, but that it kept his mind focused and brought out some creativity that he never knew he possessed.
His transition back to civilian life was not easy, but it took a promising turn when he began a relationship with a girl he dated back in high school. She would eventually become his wife, and the two share a large blended family of three daughters, one son and five grandchildren. An woodworking and outdoor enthusiast, Schrader also is trying to pass his passion and interest for hunting on to his son in hopes that he will be his hunting partner in the near future.
Since retiring, he has not slowed down one bit, earning a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration from Grand Canyon University, and a master’s degree in administration from Northern Arizona University. He currently lives in his home state of Arizona where he and his wife are both actively involved with the veteran community in Phoenix, where they frequently volunteer their time to different veteran organizations in the metro Phoenix area. He also serves as a Veteran Ambassador for Boot Campaign.
Airman 1st Class (Ret.) Jocelyn Brackney is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and is a passionate advocate for veterans through her employer and as a Boot Campaign Veteran Ambassador.
A native of Eastern Washington, Brackney comes from a military family. Her grandfather, Spurgeon Keeth Sr. (E-3, U.S. Army, 25th Infantry Division) served in World War II and was on the beaches of Pearl Harbor during the attack (still living at the age of 92). Her uncle also was in the Air Force (Spurgeon Keeth Jr., E-4, Vietnam War, 6910th Security Service), and her step-grandfather (Garry B. Ottinger, O-2) was a commanding officer in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Sproston during the Vietnam War.
After graduating high school, Brackney decided it was her time to serve and she joined the U.S. Air Force as a Command Post Controller (1C3X1). During her time in the service, she spent 15 months stationed at Incrilik AB, Turkey and the remainder of her enlistment in Ramstein, Germany. She received the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.
Since leaving military service in 2013, Brackney earned her associate’s degree from Columbia Basin College, and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in human resource management alongside being an instructional designer within Amazon.
She continues to be dedicated to veteran advocacy and does everything she can do to give back to the military community as the marketing and membership director for the veteran affinity group within Amazon – the Amazon Warriors – a group made up of veterans, spouses, family members, and those who support the military community. In addition, she is excited to be able to spread her support even further by contributing to the Boot Campaign as a Veteran Ambassador.
A resident of Seattle, Wash., Brackney’s free time is spent enjoy traversing across the world, camera in hand, capturing photographs of the great unknown, as well as volunteering at her local art museum, or enjoying all that the beautiful Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Mike Cagle is a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Army and recent addition to Boot Campaign as a Veteran Ambassador.
Cagle was raised by his grandparents on 87 of acres in East Texas, graduating from Willis Point High School in 1994 and following my father’s footsteps by signing the dotted line to serve his country. He spent 10 years in the Army as a 13 Bravo- Cannon Crew-member, 88 Mike, and 92 Yankee.
He deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2004 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, finished his career by being awarded three Army Achievement Medals, two Army Accommodation Medals, and three Good Service Conduct Medals.
Staff Sergeant Cagle ended his military career earlier than he would have liked in order to be the sole provider for his children. Being a single father to two great kids has been the most important, gratifying, and challenging roll of his life so far. He has an 18-year-old daughter named Tatum and a 14-year-old son named Gavin who has special needs.
Since retiring from the Army, he has become a joint operator for a Veteran-owned custom wood-working business called J&C Custom Home Furnishings with his girlfriend, Rachell, who served in the U.S.Marine Corps. In addition, he is one of the lead administrators for a support group on Facebook called Veterans of Valor, where their motto is “Vets Helping Vets.”
He earned an associate’s degree in business science from Everest University and previously owned his own construction and remodel company in Kansas for 10 years before moving back to his home state of Texas, where he currently works in the elevator repair and modernization industry out of Dallas.
Sergeant 1st Class Michael D. Hardgrove Jr. is a Protocol NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) assigned to the National Guard Bureau Protocol Office, providing direct protocol support inside the Pentagon, and also donates his time as a Veteran Ambassador for Boot Campaign.
A native of Woodstock, Va., Sgt. Hardgrove enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard in 1999 as an infantryman and was assigned to B Co., 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment in Woodstock, Virginia. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he was mobilized under Operation Noble Eagle I, and was assigned to provide Military Security at Dulles Airport, Dulles, Va.
In October 2013, Sgt. Hardgrove was reassigned to be the Headquarters, Army National Guard G1 Operations NCOIC, becoming the first NCO assigned in a position that has previously only been held by officers. He left the traditional National Guard on Oct. 1, 2014 when he began his active duty career in the Active Guard/Reserve Program and received his current assignment as a Protocol NCO with the National Guard Bureau.
During his tenure, Sgt. Hardgrove has served several tours of duty overseas, including his assignments with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (Sept. 2004-July 2005) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (March 2007-Feb. 2008, and March-Aug. 2010).
To date, Sgt. Hardgrove has received 19 awards and decorations during his 17-year career, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, among others.
In addition to his current assignment with the National Guard Bureau Protocol Office and his work with Boot Campaign, the Arlington, Va. resident is currently pursuing a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice with the strategic intelligence cognate at Liberty University and has an anticipated graduation date of May 2017.
Triple J, as he is affectionately called by the BC team, is well known for his keen sense of knowing when to interject comic relief in any heated situation. This comes from personal experience where explosives were his way of life. Joey’s eight-year career as a United States Marine serving in Iraq and Afghanistan included work to destroy more than 85 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and thousands of pounds of other unknown types of bulk explosives. He was injured in August 2010 when an IED detonated, leaving him with two years of recovery at Walter Reed Medical Center. During his time there, he worked to develop a Peer Visit Program, which provided the opportunity for others recovering from life-changing injuries to mentor and encourage newly injured patients, leading to a year-long revolutionary fellowship on Capitol Hill with the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee and a degree from Georgetown University. It was there Joey found the Boot Campaign and became an instant supporter of the mission, lending his smooth-talking voice (he’s from Georgia!) to our public relations efforts. The more JJJ invested in BC, the more it became obvious he had a knack for managing hot topics very, very well!
J.W. Cortés is an award-winning combat veteran-turned-actor, singer, and New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Officer, who recently became an advocate for the military community as Veteran Ambassador for Boot Campaign.
Cortés is best known for originating his recurring role as “Detective Carlos Alvarez” on the FOX hit-series “Gotham.” While balancing his life as a police officer and actor, he has trained in New York City at the world renowned William Esper Studio under highly regarded acting instructor Terry Knickerbocker. As art imitates life, Cortés has played various police and military roles on shows such as NBC’s “The Blacklist” and “The Mysteries of Laura,” and CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” among others.
In 2012, he worked as an operative on NBC’s fierce reality television show “Stars Earn Stripes,” alongside Boot Campaign Hero Ambassador and American Sniper Chris Kyle, Grady Powell (“Ultimate Survival Alaska”), Dale Comstock (“American Badass”), Tom Stroup (SWAT Commander), Andrew McLaren (“Chrome Underground”), Talon Smith (Force Recon), and Brent Gleeson (Navy SEAL). During the show’s, run he had the pleasure of training, mentoring, and executing training missions with celebrities, the likes of Terry Crews, Laila Ali, Dean Cain, and Todd Palin, and ultimately captured an inaugural “Excellence in Reality Television Award” from the Hispanic Organization of Latino Actors.
The bilingual Cortés was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. At 18 years old he followed his father’s footsteps into military service. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for nearly 13 years, including tours for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, for which he earned a Combat Action Ribbon and Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medals.
In addition to his work with Boot Campaign, Cortés has dedicated himself to giving back and bringing attention to several causes and charities close to his heart: war veterans and children with disabilities. He also supports Autism Speaks and The Gary Sinise Foundation, and often travels the country singing at various military, sports, and charity events. In partnership with the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Cortés joined legendary Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on stage at Madison Square Garden to help raise over six million dollars. “Rolling Stone” magazine described his performance as “Stunning!” saying he sounded like a mixture of a young Marvin Gaye and John Legend.
He is the proud father of two boys, a lucky husband, and loving owner of an American-bulldog named Blue. On all socials platforms, he is @jwcortes.
Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Bobby Henline, U.S. Army, is a comedian, Bravo748 motivational presenter and Boot Campaign Veteran Ambassador after serving 13 years in the Army that included four tours to Iraq. His story and lived experiences have been featured in the “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor,” “Healing Bobby” and “Weight of Honor” documentaries, and news outlets such as CNN, PBS KCET, NPR, Time and People, in addition to various regional TV, radio and podcasts around the world.
Henline is one of those rare individuals you meet in life that at once can make you laugh hysterically and, at the same time, remind you to be the best person you can be.
A veteran of Desert Storm by age 19, Henline was inspired to re-enlist in the U.S. Army after the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001. He deployed to Iraq three times, twice with the 82nd Airborne Division and once with the 3rd Armored Calvary regiment. While on his fourth tour in Iraq, three weeks after his arrival, an IED blast blew up his Humvee on April 7, 2007. Of the five men in the vehicle, Henline was the only survivor. He stumbled out of the wreck, a human torch. Extinguished by the soldier he had replaced in the Humvee, burns covered almost 40 percent of his body, bones in his face and shoulders were fractured, and his head was burned to the skull. Put into a medically induced coma for two weeks, Henline was flown back to the U.S. for medical care.
During his initial six-month hospital stay, Henline remained upbeat, positive, and relied on humor to get him through each day. Putting nurses in headlocks, trying to keep other wounded soldiers’ spirits up by telling them jokes, and singing a ditty over and over garnered the attention of his occupational therapist. She challenged him to go to an open mic night and try his hand at comedy.
Today, Henline continues his quest to make people laugh in a variety of venues. The open mic night provided him an opportunity to perform professionally as the “Well Done Comedian” at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club (Las Vegas, Nev.), Laugh Factory (Chicago, Ill.), and Hollywood Improv (Los Angeles) to name a few.
As a motivational speaker/comedian, he collaborates with various military and military-related organizations to inspire soldiers, veterans, and their families, spreading his message of life, love, and joy; he visits high schools across the country; speaks at mental health and other healthcare organizations, military and veteran associations, as well as a host of other venues, sharing his story of resiliency, hope, and healing.
Spec. (Ret.) Ricky Raley was an infantryman in the Indiana Army National Guard and is currently involved in helping others through his work with nonprofits like Boot Campaign.
An Indiana native, Raley joined the Guard a month before his graduation from Sullivan High School. He was assigned to the Guard’s Alpha Company, Task Force 1-151 – better known as the Avengers – and served one combat tour in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While serving in Iraq, the Avengers conducted more than 200 combat missions and covered more than 250,000 miles in convoy escorts.
On one mission in August 2008, he was driving the lead M900 five-ton gun truck equipped with a Self Protection Adaptive Roller Kit (SPARK) to detect and thwart the threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). He received a Purple Heart after suffering injuries when the truck he was driving encountered an IED. Fortunately, he walked out of Iraq with little physical trauma.
However, little did he know that six months and 17 days after returning from Iraq he would be involved in a truck accident in the U.S. that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
The setback only slowed him down while he was confined to the hospital and rehab facility. Approximately three months after being released from the rehab facility, his life changed dramatically again but this occasion had nothing to do with his injuries as his wife gave birth to their son.
Active and into sports before suffering his injury, it was natural for him to have the desire to tackle the challenge of adaptive sports. In the beginning of his intro to adaptive sports he became fascinated with quad rugby. He acquired great admiration for the athletes that give it their 110 percent and it fueled his fire to do the same through sports.
He started by training in handcycling and then became competitive in wheelchair basketball. In just over a year after his auto accident, Raley was competing in his first marathon on a handcycle. Since that marathon, he has gone on to compete in multiple races in varying lengths and states. He also has dabbled in many other sports and recreational activities, including shot put, javelin, discus, lacrosse, swimming, kayaking, Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, boccia ball, archery, hunting, fishing, air rifle, trap shooting, and scuba diving. If there is a sport he has not accomplished yet, there is a high probability he will try it in the future.
A former corrections officer at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind., Raley recently chose to transition to advocating more than competing after he realized that what he truly cares about is making sure America makes good on its promise of giving veterans the best quality of life possible.
To that end he began working with Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to advocate on quality of care issues that affect the veterans at the VA’s facilities across the nation. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky-Indiana Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and is KIPVA’s Sports Director. He also is a valued member of the Boot Campaign family for his contributions as a Veteran Ambassador.
Cpl. (Ret.) Dewaine Hill is a native Texan and U.S. Army Veteran who recently began donating his time to Boot Campaign as a Veteran Ambassador.
Hill graduated from Fredericksburg High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army in November of 2000, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Darrell Vanderford, who was a father-figure in his life and had served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.
After training as an infantryman he was stationed at Fort Hood in Killen, Texas, where he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division Bravo Company. He eventually was deployed to Iraq in 2004 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and returned to the U.S. with his unit in February 2005. He was released from active duty in June 2005, when he continued his service in the Army Reserves until December 2008, leaving the military with the rank as corporal.
A rifle expert, Hill earned numerous awards during his military career include the Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal and Combat Infantry Badge.
A life-long motorcycle enthusiast, Hill honors the memory of his first military roommate at Fort Hood – U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph A. Rahaim – on his 2014 Harley Davidson. It is the same vehicle he also uses to recognize the bravery of 10 additional comrades who gave the ultimate sacrifice, including: SGT Joseph Rahaim- 2005, SFC Special Forces Nathan Winder -2007, Staff SGT Christoffer Tjaden- 2009, SGT Gerardo Moreno- 2004, SGT Pablo Calderon-2004, SGT Alec Norcom- 2015, SGT Jose Guereca Jr.- 2004, SPC Andrew Weiss-2007, SPC Mark Zapata- 2004, Staff SGT Edward Carman-2004, and 2nd LT James Goins-2004.
Hill presently resides in Leander, Texas, with my wife Kristi and son Brayden, who are making room for a soon-to-be-adopted a little girl.
Captain Ben Harrow, Army Green Beret and Detachment Commander in Afghanistan, was a 2015 Boot Campaign Military Recovery Fund grant recipient and joined the nonprofit organization as a Veteran Ambassador in 2016.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Harrow grew up in Great Neck, Long Island and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he played lacrosse (defensive midfield) and participated three years in the NCAA Tournament.
He commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry, attended Airborne School, Infantry Officer Basic Course and Ranger School. Later, he was an Infantry Platoon leader with 1st Cavalry division and deployed to Iraq for 15 months before being selected for Special Forces training. In 2010, Harrow earned the coveted ‘Green Beret’ tab, and later served as a Special Forces Detachment Commander for two separate Operational Detachment Alphas on deployments to Afghanistan.
His life changed forever on May 15, 2012 when Harrow stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED), resulting in the amputation of both legs and two fingers on his right hand, a severe arm injury and several other lasting conditions.
On the road to recapturing his own mobility, he has been inspiringly instrumental in assisting doctors with his own recovery, setting two medical world records including the shortest femur ever lengthened and the most bone regenerated (13.8 centimeters). Those efforts allowed him to be better fitted for prosthetic legs and has stimulated a new treatments for people with similar medical challenges.
An ice hockey enthusiast since age five, Harrow has recently taken up sled hockey, the Paralympic equivalent to ice hockey. Thanks to his wife’s Italian citizenship, Harrow is eligible to participate with the Italian National Team as a goalie. In August of 2015, Harrow competed in “The Triumph Games” that aired on the NBC Sports Network. It was a competition created by OurVetSuccess, honoring those who served by presenting stories of leadership and achievement of U.S. veterans. A story including his career background and participation in the Triumph Games was broadcast nationally on NBC’s “Today” show on Sept. 11, 2015.
Having been a recipient of Boot Campaign’s assistance program, Harrow realized the charity’s mission and his future life goals were aligned. As a new Veteran Ambassador, he hopes to further Boot Campaign’s goals of promoting patriotism, raising awareness of veterans’ issues and providing assistance to military families.
The Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart recipient is finishing his recovery and medically retiring in Bethesda, Md., where he resides with wife, Gina, and their two children.
SSG. Aaron Hale (Ret.) is a 14-year veteran of both the Navy and Army and currently lives in Florida with his love McKayla. Aaron deployed once to Iraq, and it was on his second mission to Afghanistan in December 2011 where his career as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Team Leader ended. An Improvised Explosive Device (IED), something that has claimed many lives during the war, exploded in front of Aaron, severely wounding him and taking his eyesight completely.
Aaron never accepted defeat and is always looking for new challenges. While he awaited military retirement, he began teaching at the EOD School, continued his education in finance, started running marathons, kayaking and climbing mountains.
In August 2015, Aaron came down with a sudden case of bacterial meningitis which took his hearing entirely and put vertigo in its place. That still hasn’t stopped him. Aaron received two cochlear implants, which allow some hearing. He continues to travel the country advocating for veterans and started a fudge business called Extra Ordinary Delights (EOD). Aaron is looking forward to many more years of pushing the boundaries on what people think is possible and McKayla is excited to be right there to cheer him on.
Jason Borne grew up in a small Texas town and, after his military career ended, came right back to the Lone Star State. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2003, deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004-2005, and served in the reserves until 2009. Jason attended the police academy in 2007, continuing his career in public service and building a health and wellness business on the side. It was then that he met Boot Campaign, forming an instant connection and participating in local events, photo shoots, and Pushups for Charity. Jason lives in Central Texas with his wife and three kids.
Texas native Cassandra “Cassie” Cantin has a big heart and personality to match. The only girl of four children growing up, Cassie learned to hold her own from a young age. She served 24 years in the Army as a medic and then as an LPN, including a combat tour in Iraq. As an adult, Cassie is once again surrounded by boys – she and her husband Carl are parents to one son, C.J., and the trio now lives in Texas. These days, she spends time traveling around the world, cooking for her friends and family, participating in 5K charity events, and sponsors a college freshman in her community by providing meals and mentorship. Cassie admits, though, that her greatest inspiration and happiness are found right at home with her two favorite guys.
If there is one word that describes Christina Hess it would be passionate. Christina grew up in Jackson, Michigan, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. She followed her father’s footsteps and joined the Army at the age of 20, where she served as a licensed practical nurse for 7 1/2 years. Today, Christina is an Army wife and mother of two boys. She recently completed her bachelors of art degree in healthcare administration and is pursuing an MBA at the University of Texas. She currently works from home as a project manager of an internet-based media company but sees a career in politics ahead, perhaps one day serving in the Senate. Christina is also a gifted writer and shares her talent with Boot Campaign readers often.
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Sarah Lucas served 18 months in the Army Reserves and 16 years of active duty as a combat medic, hospital medic, instructor and flight medic on a UH-60A Blackhawk helicopter, and continues to aid her military brethren as the spouse of an active duty U.S. Marine and Boot Campaign Hero Ambassador.
After attending the University of Arizona in her hometown of Tucson, she enlisted as a combat medic and was first stationed on active duty in Korea, in 1993.
Before reaching active duty status, she was part of a US Army Reserve Center in Tucson for one year and then moved for six more months to a reserve unit in Milwaukee, Wis., before receiving orders for Active Duty at the Troop Medical Clinic in Yongsan, Korea. After a year overseas, she was reassigned in 1994 to Defense Medical Readiness Training Institute in Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, where she served three years as an instructor for the Combat Casualty Care Course (C-4) and Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support course (PHTLS) .
In 1997, she was stationed in Landstuhl, Germany, where she was a flight medic with 236Th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) until 2000. From there, she was transferred back to the U.S. to serve as a medical treatment sergeant for two years at the 64th Forward Support Battalion’s Aid Station at Fort Carson, Colo. From 2002-2005, she was a Non-Commissioned Officer in Command (NCOIC) of the Medical Team under theHeadquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) of the 23rd Quartermaster Brigadeat Fort Lee, Va.
In 2005, she deployed as part of Operation Iragi Freedom to Eskan Village, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she was the NCOIC of the medical training team for forwarding deploying units for four months. She then was deployed to Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar for 6 months. As part of a 10-person Joint Force Protection Assessment Team, she traveled to Oman, Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on assignment.
SSG Lucas came back to America in 2006 and was stationed at the 6th Ranger Training Battalion’s Troop Medical Clinic on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where the Staff Sergeant finished her active duty before medically retiring in 2009. Her distinguished career in the Army netted two Joint Service Commendation medals, two Army Commendation medal, two Army Achievement medals and five Good Conduct medals.
Lucas currently resides in Chesapeake, Va., with her husband, Steve, a Lieutenant Colonel and EOD Officer in the U.S. Marines, who has been active for 28 years. He is stationed at Naval Support Activity-Norfolk as part of the Marine Forces Command (MARFORCOM).
In 2013, while deployed, her husband sustained a non-combat related injury and Lucas spent approximately 27 days by his side during his recovery at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington D.C. Her experience of being on both sides of the health care system propelled her to dedicate her time and effort in becoming an advocate for veterans and their families with Boot Campaign.
The Lucas’ have four children, Kyle, on active duty in the Coast Guard and three children in college, Micah, Bryanna and Quentin.
She works as an EFMP Liaison on JEB Little Creek/Ft. Story and enjoys volunteering, playing softball, riding motorcycles, woodworking, hunting, fishing and geocaching.
Kelli Serio is a United States Navy veteran and the granddaughter of a WWII veteran. A native of Oklahoma, Kelli joined the military in 2008 and served on the USS Ronald Reagan out of San Diego, California until 2012. During her years of service, she was deployed to the Gulf of Oman on two occasions. After she left the Navy, Kelli pursued a degree in journalism and is currently working in the entertainment industry as a freelancer. Veterans and military families are still very much a part of Kelli’s post-service life, and she actively works in the non-profit world to help those in need. Blending her work in Hollywood with her service background, Kelli has appeared in a Navy recruiting commercial directed by Peter Berg.
She’s one of those people who’s always in motion, and Tatiana McGill is the first to admit it. The four-year Marine Corps veteran now divides her time between supporting her service-injured Marine husband, caring for their two young boys, and working toward her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Every day is a busy one, but to hear it from her, every day is also a gift.
Tatiana enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004 and supported her fellow service members as a postal clerk. She married her husband Phil in 2005, and in 2006 she was deployed to Iraq for seven months. After learning their family would be expanding, Tatiana separated from the Marines and welcomed their first son in 2009. Her husband remained on active duty, completing Explosive Ordnance Disposal school during that time and deploying twice more by 2011. In what should have been an easier deployment working a humanitarian effort in Cambodia, Phil was injured by an improvised explosive device in 2011 and their world changed forever.
After Phil was wounded, Tatiana was unsure how they would ever get back to normal. But as his recovery progressed and they welcomed their second son, she began to realize the blessing in disguise that was the dedicated time to bond and rebuild their lives. A chance interaction on social media led her to Boot Campaign and the opportunity to attend a Faces Of Our Freedom experience in May 2015, a trip that provided a desperately needed respite from the challenges of post-injury life.
With her husband preparing to retire from service and just a few more classes left to earn her degree, Tatiana is thankful for their path despite the rocky road. In roughly a decade, they’ve gone from an active military family to an injured military family and finally, to a family, and that’s a success in her book.
He’s the guy who knows what it’s like: what it’s like to serve his country, what it’s like to make sacrifices, what it’s like to come home with injuries, what it’s like to qualify and receive the Purple Heart and what it’s like to start over after retiring from military service earlier than planned. In all this the twinkle in his eye and sly grin is ready to go whenever a moment of humor is needed. A Texas man, Staff Sergeant Marcus Burleson joined the marines after completing two years of college. His career includes a deployment to Papua New Guinea, one of 150 countries in which the U.S. maintains a presence. In one assignment, Mark worked a support mission for the Secret Service, protecting the President while vacationing, and then in Afghanistan as team leader with 2nd Platoon where he met up with an IED. In the end, Mark won the battle with that IED, but the wrestling match ended with him on the injured list and an ambulance ride to end all ambulance rides from Afghanistan to Walter Reed Hospital where he spent the next two years recovering from his injuries. Mark found the Boot Campaign through Scott O’Neal (Boot Campaign Ambassador), who connected him almost from the moment he was injured. In fact, the Military Recovery Fund was named in his honor and his work to develop its infrastructure.
LCDR Chris Auger (Ret) is a former active duty Navy SEAL with more than 27 years of service and leadership to his country. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Chris is a legacy SEAL whose father and younger brother were also career Navy SEALs. He enlisted in the Navy in 1987 and graduated BUD/S class 155 in December 1989. After several short trips to Iraq in 2005 and 2007, he deployed for eight and a half months in 2008 to the Southern Islands of the Philippines working by, through, and with the Philippine Special Operations to counter terrorism. In July 2011 he deployed in support of Special Operations Command Central Command Pakistan Forward to train Pakistan Maritime Special Operations in support of counter Narco-Terrorism operations along the Makran Coast. His time in Naval Special Warfare took its toll on his neck and back, which prompted retirement in 2015 after several major surgeries.
Upon retiring, Chris, his wife of 24 years, his 22-year-old daughter Alexis, and his swim buddy Winston (their Jack Russell/Pug) moved cross-country to Virginia Beach after 14 years in San Diego. He is currently an adjunct professor at Wave Leadership College and a second year Doctoral student at Regent University School of Business Leadership. His desire to serve has led him to become a major contributor of time and effort in support of the Boot Campaign mission.
The whole reason the Boot Campaign exists is due to the response the Boot Girls had to Marcus’ book, the Lone Survivor. A native of the East Texas area, Marcus is a Retired US Navy SEAL with numerous combat operation awards. His support of the Boot Girl’s idea and subsequent development of their non-profit organization is incalculable. While he has his own non-profit charity, the Lone Survivor Foundation, and one of the Boot Campaign’s partner charities, Marcus’ generous support of the Boot Campaign goes beyond the call of duty.
There are few people who can not only inspire others when faced with adversity but pull up their bootstraps and lead the charge, even if it involves running a marathon on one leg. Chad is a retired Army Ranger logging six deployments to Iraq. The total of his combat wounds earned him over 20 surgeries including his left leg being amputated below the knee. Even when staring down the enemy at extreme personal loss, Chad has become an advocate for veterans’ issues and one of the Boot Campaign’s most reliable supporters as a generous volunteer of his time and talent. He was featured BC’s inaugural and inspirational video for Push Ups For Charity benefiting the Boot Campaign. The video challenged people to push past their fears and push for something beyond themselves and make a difference for others. Chad continues to support the Boot Campaign, even mentioning our growing impact, as a featured speaker on the Patriot Tour.
Feeling sluggish and low? Don’t worry; a dose of Paul will totally turn your day around! One would never suspect by his highly positive and enthusiastic spirit that his 21-year military career included work in some of the most hostile environments in modern day conflict. During his enlisted career as a Corpsman serving with USMC infantry and Amphibious Reconnaissance units he was involved in various operations taking him all over the world. From Haiti, Somalia and South West Asia, in various low intensity conflicts, combat operations and counterdrug and humanitarian operations. Commissioned in 2002 as US Navy Special Operations Officer and following training he was assigned as an EOD detachment Officer in Charge at Naval Special Warfare Group One, Deploying multiple times to the CENTCOM AOR in support of OEF/OIF. Following his combat tours Paul was assigned to a US Embassy overseas and finished his career as an Executive Officer of a west coast EOD command. Paul retired in August of 2012.
But one meeting with Paul and you will know his love for people transcends his military experiences. Little wonder when his friend Marcus Luttrell introduced him to the Boot Campaign, he jumped in with both boots running. Combining his love of country with the love of his brothers in arms into a charitable organization was a perfect fit for Paul. From military life to the civilian world he was pumped by the chance to continue to give back and support his brothers and sisters both in active service and as Veterans. You can see him making a cameo in the movie Lone Survivor or reading about he and his men in Marcus Luttrell’s book Service.
Cpl. (Ret.) Jake Schick is a third generation Marine who epitomizes service and sacrifice. He enlisted in 2001, and during his 2004 deployment to Al Anbar Province, Iraq, an IED explosion resulted in compound fractures in his left leg and left arm; multiple skin, ligament and bone losses; varying burns; partial loss of his left hand and arm; amputation below the knee of his right leg, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). Jake has undergone 46 operations, 23 blood transfusions and countless hours of rehabilitation, including the Brain Performance Institute’s high performance brain training, called SMART. He medically retired in 2006 and currently works as a Warrior Relations Specialist with the Brain Performance Institute’s Warrior Training Team. Jake recently joined the Boot Campaign at Boot’n & Shoot’n 2015, where he learned firsthand how we’re making a difference in the lives of service members and their families.
Photo courtesy of Hope Harrison Photography
SSgt (USMC) Jake McCormack enlisted into the delayed entry program of the United States Marine Corps in 2002 and shipped to MCRD San Diego in 2003. In April, 2005, he was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with Regimental Combat Team 5, Team Gator. In 2006, he re-deployed back to Camp Fallujah in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon return to the states, Jake served as an instructor at the Assault Amphibian School and graduated Resident PME, where he was selected for Meritorious Staff Sergeant on the Non-SDA Meritorious board. He is currently serving as the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Recruiting Sub Station, Sherman, Texas. Over the course of his career, Jake has received the Navy and Marine Corps achievement medal with two gold stars and Combat distinguishing device, a Combat Action ribbon and a Good Conduct medal with two bronze stars. In addition to volunteering with the Boot Campaign, Jake loves being outdoors and fishing with his wife and son.
Cpl. (Ret.) Ryan Lamke entered the Marine Corps in January 2005 and was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq just seven months later as an Infantry Assualtman with 2d Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment. During his deployment, he was involved in several IED and rocket-propelled grenade blasts, resulting in a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and several orthopedic injuries. Despite these injuries, Ryan continued with his unit through the entirety of the deployment. In 2007, Ryan deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) to fulfill a variety of roles throughout the Near East and Africa before retiring from active duty in 2008.
Since he left the Marines, Ryan has continued to advocate for the disabled veteran population, raising awareness of student veteran issues, Post-Traumatic Stress and TBI issues as well as the unintended consequences of government regulations that impede the care and recovery of our nation’s wounded warriors. He graduated Georgetown University in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies. He is now running his own full-service marketing and PR firm, Ton-Up MKTG, but still finds time to give back to his brothers and sisters in arms as often as he can.
CPT (Ret.) Mark Little enlisted in the Army in 2002 and spent four years as a Combat Engineer, learning and performing the craft of a demolitions expert. After graduating from George Mason University, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army and underwent several additional months of training. Just 42 days after completing officer training, Mark was deployed to Iraq as a Platoon Leader for the 3rd Infantry Division. He spent 99 days in Iraq, conducted over 150 combat patrols and received three direct IED blasts, resulting in the loss of both legs. Mark was subsequently awarded two Purple Heart medals for injuries sustained in combat. After a short five months of recovery, Mark volunteered to return to duty within the Department of Defense and served for over a year before medically retiring from service. Even then, he didn’t want to leave the profession of leading soldiers and worked in the same position as a civilian contractor. Mark was also awarded the Bronze Star, two Army Commendation medals and the Army Combat Action Badge.
Mark is committed to the ongoing support of the men and women who serve and have served our nation. In addition to frequent participation in Boot Campaign events, he’s the co-founder and president of Warrior 360, a nonprofit that engages the military community in events to promote camaraderie and welfare. He’s a player and board member of the USA Warriors Hockey Team, which provides recreational hockey therapy to wounded service members. He actively CrossFits and organizes events to allow wounded service-members to regain high levels of physical activity and competitive spirit.
Sgt (Ret.) Kelsey Smith enlisted in the Marine Corps in June of 2003. Upon completion of training and becoming an 0311 (Infantry Rifleman), he was assigned to 3rd Battalion 7th Marines and deployed in February of 2004 to Al Qaim, Iraq. In September of 2005, he deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, where he received shrapnel wounds and was awarded a Purple Heart. He deployed twice more to Iraq in 2007 and 2008, after which he served as a combat instructor for newly commissioned officers and warrant officers at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. During his career, Kelsey was awarded two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medals, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal and the Combat Action ribbon. He retired from active duty in 2013.
Since his retirement, Kelsey has been attending the University of North Texas pursuing a degree in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior, and he also serves as the president of the university’s Student Veterans Association. A dedicated advocate for veterans’ issues, Kelsey gives generous support to the Boot Campaign as often as possible, and also works with a nonprofit focused on Purple Heart recipients. He and his wife Reyka are parents to three young daughters: Annika, Mayzie and Charlee Jo. Whenever he finds time, Kelsey can be found enjoying any activity outdoors or catching a race at a local track.
Brent Taylor is a United States Marine Corps veteran who has worked in the firearms industry since he left active duty in 2009, and is currently the Director of Customer Relations at BPI Outdoors. He loves spending time in the great outdoors, fishing, Georgia football and grilling up tasty things to eat. Like most modern-day husbands, Brent is often the DIY-guru turning his wife’s Pinterest dreams into reality. Within the Boot Campaign, Brent serves as a liaison to other professionals in the firearms industry, which he entered because of his self-professed love of shooting guns. More than just the simple guy he claims to be, Brent loves being a Boot Campaign ambassador and sharing his unwavering support for our mission with others.
Ssgt. (Ret.) Johnny Morris knew he would become a Marine when he was just a kid. The Alabama native enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004 and became an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician in 2009. His first deployment that same year lasted six months and earned him a Combat Action ribbon and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal with a “V.” Johnny deployed for a second time in 2011, where he suffered traumatic brain injuries and massive damage to his legs resulting from two separate IED blasts. His efforts earned him two Purple Heart medals and a Bronze Star medal with a “V.” Johnny and his wife Natalie have two young kids and are back home in Alabama.
Mark Llano is the owner and driver of Serket Racing, a Marine veteran, and an entrepreneur dedicated to bettering the lives of his fellow service members. He joined Boot Campaign as a Veteran Ambassador in 2014, and was named to the Boot Campaign Board of Directors in October 2015.
Seeking to serve his country and help others, the native of Tampa, Fla., joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1988 and served in the Gulf War until May 1991. Llano’s dedication to excellence was apparent as a Marine, and upon leaving the service, continued with the entrepreneurial work he pursued that brought him closer to his military family.
Following active duty, Llano completed his undergraduate degree in criminology at University of South Florida and moved into investment banking. He ultimately started an investment group, growing the company from three employees to more than 600 across all 50 U.S. states and seven international offices. Shortly thereafter, Llano started Source One Distributors, Inc., a corporation providing equipment, products and support services to the defense industry that has been recognized for being a leader in military and tactical gear distribution.
In 2012, Llano married his success with Source One and his passion for auto racing by creating Serket Racing, a Porsche racing team dedicated to raising awareness and direct support for veterans and their families. In just three short years, Serket Racing has worked with incredible partners, such as Boot Campaign, Kaplan University, Crye Precision and Wells Fargo, to change the lives of veterans nationwide.
Llano and his wife, Lori, ventured into the top-shelf sunglasses business in 2015 when they purchased Skeleton Optics, a reliable and durable brand of shades that provide extraordinary vision quality featuring polarized lenses manufactured by Carl Zeiss Visio and handcrafted Italian frames.
In 2017, Llano and Boot Campaign plan to further support veterans through raising awareness on and off the track and providing the emotional and financial support veterans and their families need.
Llano was the first resident of Wellington, Fla., to be awarded the “Key to the City” for his charitable efforts for veterans across the United States, and the retired Marine continues to inspire others through his vast philanthropic work nationwide.
Omar enlisted in the Marine Corps just out of high school in 2000. In 2003 he deployed to Iraq, and was honorably discharged the next year. After starting a family, Omar realized he wanted to return to military life, so he enlisted in the Air Force in 2006 and trained to become an Explosive Ordnance Technician (EOD), transitioning back into the Marine Corps. He deployed twice to Afghanistan – once in 2009 and again in 2011, and it was during this second deployment that he suffered massive injuries resulting in the amputation of his right leg, and long-term damage to his left leg and both arms. After two intense years of rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Medical Medical Center, Omar was medically discharged from the Marines in 2014. He returned to his home state of Texas with his wife and two young daughters and is pursuing a degree in chemistry. His free time is spent outdoors, woodworking or with his family.
HM2(FMF) Michael McFarland enlisted in the Navy in 2004 as a Hospital Corpsman. He attended Field Medical Service School in 2005 to serve on the line medical service to Marines. So far in his military service, Michael has completed two deployments with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Bravo Company in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom; one deployment with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, Fox Company in support of Operation Enduring Freedom; and one deployment with 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Michael is now enrolled in Independent Duty Corpsman School, one of the most respected Naval Enlistment Classifications in the Medical Enlisted Community.
In 2012, Michael met the Boot Campaign for the first time at Boot Ride L.A. It was just the beginning of his unwavering support that has taken him from coast to coast for BC events. Having seen friends injured and killed serving our country, he felt a connection with the Boot Campaign mission, considering our work simply an extension of his role as “Doc.” As one of our most impassioned public representatives, Michael continuously goes above and beyond to serve fellow military heroes and help Boot Campaign give back.
Zachary Bell, a native of west Tennessee, served four years in the United States Marines Corps as an infantry rifleman with First Battalion, Sixth Marine Regiment. He deployed to Garmsir, Afghanistan from March to July 2008, and to to Marja, Afghanistan from December 2009 to July 2010. He was combat-meritoriously promoted to corporal and held the billet of infantry squad leader. Bell departed active duty in February 2011 at the rank of sergeant.
Bell earned his undergraduate degree in the fall of 2014, and began pursing his MBA at Lipscomb University the following January. Seeking creative outlets for his military experiences, he’s contributed pieces to both The New York Times: At War Blog and the Huffington Post. He currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee where he engages the local community to foster awareness about military issues and the services offered by the Boot Campaign. Bell’s free time is spent with his wife Christy and their two children Alyssa and Audrey.