Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov.-elect Juliana Stratton have announced the formation and members of the Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee as part of their transition team.
The committee is the second of several working groups made up of subject-matter experts that will advise and guide the incoming Pritzker-Stratton administration. The Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee will be chaired by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates), Secretary of State Jesse White (D-Chicago), and state Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) and consists of 19 members.
“There is no better way to honor the men and women who served our country than to get ready to serve them on day one of our administration,” Stratton said. “J.B. and I will spend every day making sure our veterans can afford higher education when they return home, build economic opportunity, and have access to safe, affordable housing and quality health care. Our veterans bravely served our country and it’s time Illinois had their backs.”
“I know Gov.-elect Pritzker’s administration will be an important partner in our work to truly support and repay the sacrifices of our veterans and our troops in harm’s way; and I’m honored to co-chair the new administration’s Veterans Transition Committee,” Duckworth said.
Committee members are:
- Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, Purple Heart recipient and former assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was among the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Duckworth served in the Reserve Forces for 23 years before retiring from military service in 2014 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
- White, who was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and a member of the Illinois National Guard and Reserve.
- Harris, a retiring member of the state House, and adjutant general for the state of Illinois. In that role, Major General Harris served as the commanding general of both the Illinois Army and Air National Guard, responsible for the military and civilian operations of 13,500 men and women in uniform and 500 civilian personnel. Harris also served on the Governor’s Cabinet and was Gov. George Ryan’s principal military adviser.
- State Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army from 1990-93. His military experience earned him a spot on the Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide where he heard from veterans, health care professionals and community groups aiming to identify causes of and remedies to the increase of suicides among returning Illinois veterans. He worked with the Task Force to pass legislation that will help get to the root of veterans’ suicides and save the lives of veterans.
- State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), chairwoman of the state House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where she served for five years. She served as a second lieutenant and remained in the National Guard for an additional five years. Chapa LaVia introduced dozens of bills to help military veterans and their families. She helped create the Vet-Cash lottery ticket which has raised more than $14 million for veterans organizations and the Veteran Suicide Task Force, expanded homestead exemptions for veterans and opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses, and worked to ease the transition for active military members returning to civilian life in Illinois.
- State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego), who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. In Springfield, she helped pass property tax relief for disabled veterans, the Veteran Suicide Task Force, and a long-awaited recognition for Vietnam veterans with an official “Welcome Home Proclamation” to honor veterans of the Vietnam War. Kifowit is a member of several local veterans organizations.
- Lori Wilcox, city clerk of Chicago Heights and a combat veteran of the U.S. Army. Joining the Army in 1993 at the age of 17, her tenure in the military took her to Germany, Japan, Korea, Austria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. She served as an administrative specialist, postal operations sergeant and a reserve hospital unit administrator until 2005.
- Will Attig, executive director of the Union Veterans Council and a decorated combat infantryman from De Soto who served multiple deployments with the 1-26th Infantry Regiment. His unit is widely known to have taken the hardest losses during the Iraq war. After experiencing difficulty transitioning after returning from service overseas, Attig dedicated his life’s work to helping fellow veterans transition into civilian life through similar programs. As the executive director of the Union Veterans Council, he has forged working relationships with national veteran service officers, the Department of Defense and Department of Labor.
- Erica Borggren, former director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and former Army captain who served in Iraq, the Republic of Korea, and throughout the U.S. Central Command region. At IDVA, Borggren spearheaded the launch of Illinois Joining Forces, an award-winning public-private network of organizations committed to working together to serve veterans better. Currently an executive with ComEd, Borggren was selected in 2014 as a White House “Champion of Change” for her veteran-related efforts. Borggren is also a Rhodes Scholar and West Point graduate.
- Jeanne Cameron, executive director of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans where she mobilizes union retirees across the state to fight for and expand retirement security. She has spent the last three years organizing at both the state and federal level to protect Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, access to long-term and home care, pensions and veterans’ benefits. Both her grandfathers were union printers and Korean War veterans, one serving in the U.S. Navy and the other in the Army.
- Todd Connor, CEO and founder of Bunker Labs at 1871, a national entrepreneurship organization dedicated to helping military veterans start and grow businesses. Founded in 2014 in Chicago, Bunker Labs at 1871 works to support military veterans by creating locally thriving networks, robust educational programs, and platforms for military veteran entrepreneurs to connect with the people and resources they need to be successful with early stage ventures. Connor is a former management consultant, U.S. Navy veteran, and has held many leadership roles in the public and private sectors, currently serving as a commissioner of the Cook County Commission on Human Rights.
- Jim Dixon, a Vietnam veteran living in Springfield and member of AFSCME Subchapter 86.
- Rodrigo Garcia, former acting director and assistant director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Garcia is currently the deputy state treasurer to Treasurer Mike Frerichs where he directs the treasury’s $32 billion investment portfolio and $300 billion banking portfolio.
- Emanuel “Manny” Johnson, a program officer for the veterans’ program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, managing a $3 billion portfolio of 35 grantees. Johnson served six years, and during his tour of service was stationed on board the U.S.S. Vella Gulf (CG-72) and with the National Security Agency. After his service, Johnson was a senior policy adviser at the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs where he focused on community outreach and engagement.
- Jaime Martinez, executive director for the Illinois Joining Forces Foundation. Lieutenant Colonel Martinez served in the U.S. Army for 26 years. When not deployed in Panama, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, Martinez was assigned as a policy adviser at the Pentagon, White House, and U.S. Senate. Upon returning to Illinois, Martinez served as a staff attorney assisting veterans with claims and legal issues in law clinics, general counsel to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, senior counsel to Student Veterans of America and its Board of Directors, and as senior program manager and supervising attorney of the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network.
- Nikita Richards, a U.S. Navy veteran and employment coordinator for the city of Bloomington.
- Jessica Rose Wallace, director of government affairs at Metropolitan Family Services, where she oversees the development and implementation of public policy and advocacy initiatives. Prior to Metropolitan, Wallace served as director of women veterans and family services at Warrior Summit Coalition where she led initiatives that advanced veteran systems change through collective impact and built capacity for women veterans and veteran family services in the nonprofit sector. She served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 2000-08, deploying twice to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
- Eli Williamson, co-founder of Leave No Veteran Behind, an Illinois-based nonprofit focused on employment opportunities for veterans. He was the former director of veterans programs for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation where he led the foundation’s grant-making in support of Illinois veterans. Williamson served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, a member of psychological operations, and as an Arabic linguist working on outreach to foreign civilian communities supporting special operations forces. Before leaving the Army, Williamson served as a retention officer, providing career counseling and transition support to soldiers leaving the military.
- Abundio Zaragoza Jr., a U.S. Army veteran who served on active and reserve duty. He served as an enlisted soldier, returned to Chicago, attended and graduated from the University of Illinois, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He is a graduate of the Officer U.S. Army Infantry Academy and Airborne, Jumpmaster and Air Assault schools and rose to the rank of captain 0-3. He has served on several veteran advisory boards, including leadership positions in the American Legion, AMVETS and Muslim American Veterans Association.