On Veterans Day, Governor-elect JB Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor-elect Juliana Stratton 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. Senator Tammy Duckworth, Secretary of State Jesse White, and State Rep. David Harris and will consist 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,” said Lieutenant Governor-elect Juliana Stratton. “JB 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 Governor-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,” said U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth. “November 12th is my Alive Day, the anniversary of the day I almost died but didn’t. On this day 14 years ago, an RPG tore through the cockpit of the helicopter I was flying over Iraq, taking my legs and partial use of my right arm with it. I was quite literally in pieces, but my buddies risked their lives and refused to leave me behind. Now, I spend every day thinking about what I can do to repay them, and every year I spend this day, November 12, privately conversing with the people who saved me and reflecting on their sacrifices. Making sure I don’t let them down is what drives me to do everything I can for our Veterans and troops.”
U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth co-chairs the transition’s Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee and is 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. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after representing Illinois’s Eighth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms.
Secretary of State Jesse White co-chairs the transition’s Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee and is Illinois’ longest-serving Secretary of State. White served our country as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and as a member of the Illinois National Guard and Reserve. He played professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs organization, which was followed by a 33-year career with the Chicago Public Schools as a teacher and administrator.
State Representative David Harris co-chairs the transition’s Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee and is 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 the Governor Ryan’s principal military advisor.
State Senator Tom Cullerton chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and served as an infantryman in the US Army from 1990 to 1993. 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 taskforce to pass legislation that will help get to the root of veteran’s suicide and save the lives of our veterans.
State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the United States 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 over $14 million for veterans’ organizations and the Veteran Suicide Taskforce, 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 Representative Stephanie Kifowit proudly served her country in the United States Marine Corps, the City of Aurora as alderman for over 9 years, and now as state representative of the 84th District. In Springfield, she helped pass property tax relief for disabled veterans, the Veteran Suicide Taskforce, 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.
Clerk Lori Wilcox serves the City of Chicago Heights and is a Combat War Veteran of the United States Army. Joining the Army in 1993 at the age of 17, her tenure in the military has taken her to Germany, Japan, Korea, Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. She served proudly as an Administrative Specialist, Postal Operations Sergeant and a Reserve Hospital Unit Administrator until 2005.
Will Attig is the executive director of the Union Veterans Council and a decorated Combat Infantryman from De Soto, Illinois, 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 experience 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 VSOs, the Department of Defense and Department of Labor.
Erica Borggren is the former Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and a former Army captain who served in Iraq, in 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 is the 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 ACA, 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 is the CEO and founder of Bunker Labs, a national entrepreneurship organization dedicated to helping military veterans start and grow businesses. Founded in 2014 at 1871 in Chicago, Bunker Labs 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 the 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 is a Vietnam Veteran living in Springfield and is a member of AFSCME Subchapter 86.
Dixon currently serves on the Serve Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, the Executive Committee of the Springfield Branch NAACP, a member of Faith Coalition for the Common Good, and a delegate to Springfield and Central Illinois Trades and Labor. He is also a member of Action Illinois and Bereaved Parents of the USA.
Rodrigo Garcia is a 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. He was previously held roles at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Morgan Stanley & Co.
Emanuel “Manny” Johnson is a program officer for the Veterans Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, managing a $3MM portfolio of 35 grantees. Johnson served 6 years, and during his tour of service he was stationed onboard the U.S.S. Vella Gulf (CG-72) and with the National Security Agency. After his service, Johnson was a Senior Policy Advisory at the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs where he focused on community outreach and engagement.
Jaime Martinez is the executive director for the Illinois Joining Forces Foundation. Lieutenant Colonel Martinez served in the United States Army for 26 years. When not deployed in Panama, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Jaime was assigned as a policy advisor at the Pentagon, the White House, and the United States Senate. Upon returning to Illinois, Martinez served as a staff attorney assisting veterans with claims and legal issues in legal clinics, general counsel to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, senior counsel to Student Veterans of America and the Board of Directors, and as senior program manager and supervising attorney of the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network.
Nikita Richards is a United States Navy Veteran and employment coordinator for the City of Bloomington. A former candidate for McLean County Clerk, Richards has served on numerous boards and commissions, from managing the Police and Fire commission to serving on the Bloomington Cultural District Commission. Richards helped to establish Administrative Court in Bloomington and then served as Clerk of Administrative Court.
Jessica Rose Wallace is the 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 2000-2008, deploying twice to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Eli Williamson is the co-founder of Leave No Veteran Behind, an Illinois-based non-profit 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 placed based grantmaking in support of Illinois Veterans. Williamson served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, a member of Psychological Operations (PSYOP), and as an Arabic linguist working on outreach to foreign civilian communities supporting special operations forces. Before leaving the Army, Eli served as a retention officer, providing career counseling and transition support to soldiers leaving the military.
Abundio Zaragoza, Jr., is a United States Army Veteran who served on active duty 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 United States Army Infantry Academy, 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 MAVA.