When five Texas women decide they’re going to do something, you can either get on board or get out of the way. After reading Lone Survivor, the national best-seller by Veteran Navy SEAL and fellow Texan Marcus Luttrell, five savvy, patriotic friends felt compelled to act. Luttrell’s harrowing, in-the-field and traumatic post-service story revealed an unmet need to support and give back to those who risk their lives to provide Americans with the freedoms we enjoy every day.
The result: BOOT CAMPAIGN.
Since its inception in 2011, the BOOT CAMPAIGN blazed a trail in the nonprofit world, raising more than $20 million and giving more than $2 million annually to help service members, veterans and their families from every generation.
“America was built by patriots declaring their independence and proclaiming freedom; our Armed Forces serve each American citizen at home and abroad, protecting our freedom, our rights and our securities. When they come back, the onus is on us not to just say thank you, but to give back, to act, to ease their transition and demonstrate our gratitude for their service and sacrifice.”
The daughter of a veteran Air Force physician, granddaughter of an Army veteran and cousin to a Marine Corps veteran, Shelly has a heart for patriotism and supporting our military community. She also has a head for science and the impact of military trauma – like PTSD and other traumatic brain injuries – on the brain and on veterans’ overall health. In fact, prior to her role as Boot Campaign CEO, Shelly was deeply involved in brain health at the renowned Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute, part of the University of Texas at Dallas.
For the past seven years, Shelly was responsible the Center’s advocacy, strategic alliances and oversight of public awareness campaigns, media relations, marketing and branding as its public relations director. Before that, she worked at advertising and PR giant The Richards Group, and early on, was a producer at the acclaimed crime-solving TV show, America’s Most Wanted. There she worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to bring justice to families and solve missing children cases.
Shelly has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Vanderbilt University.
“It was an honor and a blessing to be in the Armed Forces serving with the greatest men and women warriors coming from the greatest Nation on Earth for more than 20 years. I considered it a calling as opposed to a job. Since retiring from the military, I have been looking for my next calling. The Boot Campaign’s values, mission, and goals certainly align with my dream job to continue to serve our Nation and its veterans and service members and tell their story to our communities.”
When it comes to military appreciation and having a true understanding of both on-the-ground and psychological aspects of being a service member, there’s no one better than Chris Talcott. After serving for more than 20 years in Army leadership positions from Lieutenant to Colonel, he turned his focus to education – specifically, military science. Intrigued by military psychology and the desire to create great future leaders, Chris taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point and was a Professor of Military Science at Texas Christian University where he led the area’s ROTC program there, at Baylor and the University of North Texas for several years.
Chris then became Deputy Director for the Brain Performance Institute, an organization adept at working with and treating military veterans – among other things – once they return from service. There he was responsible for the organization’s strategic planning and operations at the $34 million facility.
Born into a military family, Chris’ passion is truly servant leadership – yet another reason he is a perfect fit for Boot Campaign
“It takes such determination and bravery to walk onto the battlefield for fellow humans. And it takes no less to accept appreciation and assistance when the burdens of war have become too heavy.”
Originally from the Houston area with roots now in East Texas, Melissa joined the Boot Campaign in 2011 and is the organization’s Vice President of Finance advising on strategic planning efforts and overseeing all day-to-day financials.
The granddaughter of a World War II veteran and a Korean War veteran who suffered from PTSD for most of his civilian life, Melissa grew up hearing difficult, emotional stories about the impact of serving in the military – and had tremendous respect and sympathy for their experiences.
Through this history and exposure to the Boot Campaign via friend and now-colleague Myra Brandenburg, Melissa – who had been a corporate bank loan officer for Southside Bank – saw an opportunity to marry her expertise in finance and passion for non-profits and to honor military veterans in the Boot Campaign.
And after hearing the Founding Boot Girls, veterans and other organization staff speak at several public events, she says a “spark within her became a burning fire to join the Boot Campaign team, alongside those who were leading the charge, to improve the lives of veterans and their families.”
“After living in third world countries multiple times both as a small child and a young adult, it’s clear the rights we have as Americans are unique and special. It comes to us via the men and women who protect our right to freedom all over the world, both in combat and in enormous humanitarian efforts. Working at Boot Campaign is a honor and privilege, providing me a meaningful way to say thank you to those who protect my freedom to own property and not be property.”
For Myra, being part of the Boot Campaign isn’t just a job, it’s personal. The daughter of a military police officer for the Air Force, and the niece to five veteran uncles – four who served in WWII and two of whom were at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked – she’s lived and breathed an appreciation for the military her entire life.
After having spent years at non-profit organizations in top administrative roles, Myra joined the Boot Campaign in 2010…and never left. She’s been critical to the organization’s development since Day 1 – from applying for 501(c)3 status to developing an HR department to strategizing major events. Myra now oversees operations and retail and remains foundational to the organization.
With a liberal arts degree from Arizona State University, Myra has studied and/or speaks several foreign languages including Swahili, Spanish and Russian.
“In 2012, my husband lost a childhood best friend – a former Marine – to suicide. If through ReBOOT we are able to save one life, that’s one family who won’t have to hold the title of ‘White Star Family’. I’m honored to be able to connect the dots for veterans to find the root cause of the issues plaguing them every day and return them to their personal 100%.”
The wife of a Retired Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, and daughter and granddaughter to two military veterans, Meg is no stranger to the role our U.S. service members play and the impact that service can have on their lives. Meg, who serves as the Boot Campaign’s Program Director, saw firsthand the importance of post-service assistance when her now-husband was severely injured in Afghanistan and they were relocated to Washington D.C. for his lengthy recovery.
She now puts to good use a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, experience as the School Initiative Coordinator for a fellow military non-profit and a variety of management-related career stops at the Boot Campaign, where she oversees the organization’s veterans assistance and awareness programs. Meg is Boot Campaign’s frontline ensuring candidates receive treatment as part of ReBOOT, ensuring veterans’ families receive gifts and assistance during the holidays through the Santa Boots program, and encouraging the public to “Get their boots on” by purchasing Boot Campaign combat boots.
“Growing up the value my father tried to instill in us the most was honor. While ‘living honorably’ is not necessarily something that saturates popular culture today, it is something that I believe in whole heartedly and respect deeply. The men and women who have chosen to serve in the Armed Forces do so at great personal sacrifice. They are among our nation’s most honorable and deserve our highest gratitude.”
Emily Bywaters has committed her career to working for worthy causes to achieve positive social change. With roots in youth arts advocacy, she is accustomed to wearing many hats and has helped grow small non-profits through marketing and communications initiatives. Later, as the communications manager for the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, she worked with scientists and clinicians to promote their innovative brain research findings and programs to the public.
An arts and humanities aficionado, Emily spent nearly two decades moonlighting as an actress. During that time, she performed on the stage and screen and eventually tried her hand as a writer and producer of independent film projects.
Today she is excited to be part of the lean but mighty Boot Campaign team.
Emily graduated magna cum laude from The University of Texas at Dallas with a B.A. in Arts and Performance.
“Having experienced first hand serving our great Nation and transitioning from service and the difficulties that are involved during those times, I fully embraced Boot Campaign’s mission the first time I heard it. Being able to contribute to the mission with this great team and help my fellow brothers and sisters in arms is an incredibly rewarding career. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else, with anybody else.”
Just eight months after enlisting in the Marine Corps, Kelsey was deployed to Iraq as an Infantry Rifleman. On his second deployment to Ramadi, Iraq in 2005, Kelsey was awarded the Purple Heart. Twice more Kelsey served overseas in Iraq, totaling 28 months in country. Following his overseas service, Kelsey was as a combat instructor for newly commissioned officers and warrant officers at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. Over the course of 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. He received a degree in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior from the University of North Texas before joining the Boot Campaign.
“It feels good to be making a difference. Some days it may seem small, but I’ve seen first hand at Boot Campaign that every bit counts for someone! I love working for an organization who loves our country and services these military men and women!”
Like most, we all know or are related to someone who has served this great nation, and Beth is no exception; she’s known many who have served. But working with Boot Campaign brought personal awareness of those who serve when she learned she had multiple members in her family line who served in the Army and Air Force. Beth is one of the very first, original volunteers for Boot Campaign and was there the night the idea came to the founders of the organization.
“Both of my grandfathers served during a time when they, and their families that were left behind while they deployed, were on their own, without groups to support them. Now, there is Boot Campaign. Serving those who are risking their lives overseas for us to be free in our homeland and their families through Boot Campaign is the least we can do.”
Lydia is part of a Gold Star family and her patriotic bloodline runs deep. Her paternal grandfather served as a pilot in the Navy and was KIA in Vietnam. Her maternal grandfather served in the Korean War. This rich heritage of sacrificial service allowed Lydia to pursue her passion to give back to those who served with keen knowledge of the difficulties her own family endured coming home from war. A native Texan, she attended Texas State University and holds a degree in Business Administration.
Danielle Vaughn is a SSGT in the US Air Force Reserves. Danielle joined in 2007 and served on active duty status. Upon completion of her time she joined the reserves. Her goal was to protect and heal her fellow military service members. Danielle serves on an Air Crew Life Support Unit, and her job is basically to maintain and train aircrew members on safety and survival equipment and skills. She plans to stay in the military until she is told she is too old to serve. As far as civilian life, she teaches fourth grade English, Language Arts and Social Studies. She has a passion for children and helping grow their knowledge of the world around them. She strives to incorporate patriotism into her classroom on a daily basis, whether through mentor texts, history lessons, class discussions, or simply modeling patriotic behavior like taking pride in standing for and singing the National Anthem. Danielle is the mom to her beautiful daughter Maddie. Danielle serves as a Veteran Ambassador for Boot Campaign and helps to encourage the Patriot League program in all she does. Danielle gives back not only to the children she teaches on a daily basis, but to her fellow veterans once a month at a minimum. Danielle proves nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.
Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Robert “Bobby” Dove served nearly six years in the United States Army, from 2008 to 2014, and continues to assist the veteran community as a Veteran Ambassador with national military nonprofit Boot Campaign.
A product of Gloucester, Va., Dove was inspired to enlist by his grandfather, Willard “Skip” Tompkins, who served as a rifleman in the Army infantry during the Korean War. He credits his grandfather as being the most influential person in his life, teaching him about good character, respect for authority, and the responsibility of defending America’s freedom.
Dove joined the Army in Aug. 2008, enlisting as a Special Forces recruit and completing three years of training at Fort Benning, Ga. (Jan. 2009) and Fort Bragg, Calif. (Aug. 2011). He earned his Green Beret in Aug. 2011 and was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
In Jan. 2012, Dove was promoted to staff sergeant and deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. On June 9 of that year he was injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. After being stabilized by his teammates and transported to Kandahar, Dove arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on June 15. He suffered several life-threatening injuries and underwent extensive surgeries, but ultimately lost one leg and one hand.
Dove endured with positivity and completed seven months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed before returning to active duty and serving on a non-combat deployment for 13 months. He medically retired from the Army in July of 2014.
Since his retirement from the Army, the resilient and driven Dove now owns and operates “Hooligan Charters,” an inshore and near-shore fishing charter service out of Destin, Fla., where he and his wife, Emmy, reside with their son, Wyatt. He enjoys hunting, fishing, archery, and golf, and credits his love of the outdoors as a motivating force in overcoming the obstacles presented to him since suffering his combat injuries.
Dove is a proud member of George W. Bush Institute’s Team 43 Sports Military Service Initiative, which features an annual golf tournament and mountain bike ride for wounded service members. In addition to his contributions as a Veteran Ambassador with Boot Campaign, Dove also serves on the board of directors for the nonprofit Special Operations Wounded Warriors of Myrtle Beach, S.C., providing outdoor experiences to a select group of both active duty and veteran U.S. Military Special Operations Forces who have experienced combat or training wounds, PTSD or TBI, and have been recognized with our country’s prestigious Purple Heart Medal.
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.
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.
Boot Campaign Veteran Ambassador Ricky Raley, former infantryman in the Indiana Army National Guard, served in the Guard’s Alpha Company, Task Force 1-151 – better known as the Avengers – as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During one combat tour, the Avengers conducted more than 200 combat missions and covered more than 250,000 miles in convoy escorts. On one mission, Ricky’s truck was leading the way when the mine roller tripped an IED (improvised explosive device). Ricky, along with two others in the truck at the time of the explosion, sustained mild traumatic brain injuries and were awarded Purple Hearts. In 2009, six months and 17 days after returning from Iraq, Ricky was involved in a near-fatal truck accident leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Approximately 10 years after the accident, Ricky applied for Boot Campaign’s health and wellness program and kick-started his journey to improved mental and physical capability.
In addition to his involvement with Boot Campaign, Ricky has become an avid handcyclist and advocate for adaptive sports, serving as a spokesperson for Top End® Wheelchair (a division of Invacare® Corp). He works with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to advocate on quality of care issues that affect the veterans in VA 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.
Sergeant First Class Michael D. Hardgrove Jr. is a US Army Pathfinder Instructor at the Army National Guard’s Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, GA.
A native of Woodstock, Va., SFC Hardgrove enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard in 1999 as an infantryman. He has held leadership positions from Team Leader through Platoon Sergeant and since 2012, he has been active duty for the Army National Guard in the Title 10 AGR (Active Guard/Reserve) Program.
Since 2012, SFC Hardgrove has held assignments as an Operations Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in Headquarters, Army National Guard G1 and as a Protocol NCO for the Chief, National Guard Bureau.
During his career, SFC 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, SFC Hardgrove has received 21 awards and decorations during his 19-year career and holds a Bachelor’s of Science from Liberty University in Strategic Intelligence.
He has been a Veteran Ambassador with Boot Campaign since 2014 and volunteers for Boot Campaign when he can around his active duty schedule.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sergeant Zachary E. Bell, served four years in the United States Marine Corps as an infantry rifleman, the primary infantry position, with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment based in Camp Lejeune, N.C. from 2007-2011, and joined Boot Campaign as a Hero Ambassador in 2015.
A native of west Tenn., Sgt. Bell deployed twice to Helmand Province, Afghanistan during his military career, including assignments in Garmsir, from March to July 2008, and Marja, from December 2009 to July 2010, as this part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He planned, coordinated and executed over 400 counter-insurgency operations within the area of operations over the course of his two seven-month deployments in Afghanistan. He also planned, organized and supervised preparation and execution of unit movement and operations with Afghan military, NATO multinational military forces, DOD and other commercial agencies.
Bell received a battlefield promotion to corporal for meritorious service and held the billet of infantry squad leader. After he departed active duty in Feb. 2011 he received the rank of sergeant.
After leaving the military, Zachary began pursuing a college degree and in the fall of 2014 earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. In May 2016 Zachary completed his master’s in business administration at Lipscomb University, and he now works in healthcare in Nashville, TN.
Seeking creative outlets for his military experiences, he has contributed articles to both The New York Times, for its “At War: Notes from the Front Lines” blog, and the Huffington Post.
Zachary currently lives in Nashville where he engages the local community to foster awareness about military / veteran issues and the services offered by the Boot Campaign. Zachary’s free time is spent with his wife, Christy, and their two children, Alyssa and Audrey. Connect with him on Twitter & Instagram @ZacharyEBell.
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.
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.
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.
If you had told Sherri years ago she would one day help oversee a national charity organization with a multi-million-dollar budget with a mission for military families, she would never have believed you. Though it wasn’t on her list of things to accomplish in life, it’s quickly found a forever place in her heart and continues to thrill and challenge her every day.
Born in Oklahoma and raised in multiple states, Sherri is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Baylor College of Dentistry and the owner of a thriving orthodontic practice in the East Texas area. Her love of music combined with her passion to travel and take on new challenges perfectly suited Sherri for the launch of the Boot Campaign in September 2009.
For Mariae’s family, escaping the communist regime of the Viet Cong in 1975 was the epitome of Living the American Dream. Penniless, her parents arrived in the US and her dad, as a civilian, served our Armed Forces at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS as a cafeteria janitor. With 10 children at home, her parents were certain, with hard work and the freedom to follow their dreams, without fear of reprisal, the US would offer a much better life for their family.
Mariae, number 10 in the sibling order, became the valedictorian of her high school. She received a scholarship offer to Berkley for their Biochemistry Program but turned it down to attend a private film school in Los Angeles called Chapman University. She worked as a web/graphics designer in the dotcom world for a while until it became clear she needed to follow her own American dream and open her own business. Her family history, her love of freedom and her passion in capturing the essence of who people are through the lens of a camera were a natural fit in the formation of the Boot Campaign.
A born leader with a competitive spirit, Leigh Ann holds a master’s degree in education and enjoys connecting with people.
A third-generation Fort Worth, Texas native, she is a former competitive swimmer. Before joining Boot Campaign, she put her passion for education and fundraising to work with the Junior League of Houston, as president of the PTA for an all-girls school and for a variety of other national charity events. Leigh Ann’s skills in organizing, leading people, raising funds and bringing awareness to causes laid the foundation for her work with the Boot Campaign.
A corporate public relations professional turned personal trainer, Heather’s energy, passion for fitness and serving others is unstoppable. When friend and fellow Boot Girl Leigh Ann Ranslem teamed up with Heather to launch yet another venture – an event planning business – their patriotism was a common bond and made her a perfect fit for the Boot Campaign.
Heather is a graduate of Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in Communications.
Some of the most supportive and compassionate people in the U.S. come from military families. Ginger is no exception. A founding member of the Boot Campaign, Ginger was born into military at Wilford Hall Hospital on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. After spending 13 years there, her family moved to Oklahoma City, where she graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy. It was there she met friend and fellow Boot Girl Sherri Reuland.
Ginger’s work as an occupational therapist and a pharmaceutical rep later gave her first-hand experience of what it takes for the wounded to recover, and confirmed that our wounded military needed help. The rest is Boot Campaign history.
So you may be thinking, why boots? Combat boots are standard in the armed forces community; they’re a recognized marker of military service around the world. Pair them with a suit or a skirt or a cocktail dress, and the contrast in fashion is an instant attention-getter.