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2022 Breaking Barriers - Enhancing Value by Improving Outcomes that Shape Student Success
CSM Patrick Alston
Command Sergeant Major (U.S. Army, Ret)
Flatter, Inc. is excited to announce that Command Sergeant Major Pat Alston (U.S. Army, Ret), former Command Senior Enlisted Leader for United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), has joined the company as a Senior Consultant. In this role, Pat will focus on Flatter’s consulting delivery services, as well as leadership development and executive training.
Flatter’s COO, Oliver Chiang, says, “Pat is a phenomenal leader who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from his extensive military and consulting career. We’ve been working with him since 2019 and we’re incredibly excited to expand our relationship to further develop the services and capabilities that we can offer to our Federal Government clients in the professional services arena.”
Command Sergeant Major Patrick Z. Alston is a Contractor-provided Senior Fellow for the National Defense University’s Capstone and Keystone programs. He is also a Senior Consultant with Burlington Capital Corporation, a diverse investment management firm located in Omaha, Nebraska, OWEN Industries, an industry leader in steel processing also in Omaha, Nebraska and Flatter, Inc.
He also serves as a Keynote Speaker for high-profile events within the Federal Government, with a focus on senior leadership development. Pat has served in a multitude of locations both CONUS and OCONUS during his distinguished military career, with his final assignment as the Command Senior Enlisted Leader for USSTRATCOM.
Dr. Harrison Keller
Commissioner of Higher Education for the State of Texas
Dr. Harrison Keller is the Commissioner of Higher Education for the State of Texas. He is a sixth-generation Texan with more than two decades of experience in educational budget and policy, digital learning, senior university administration, management, fund raising, and building effective coalitions among school districts, community colleges, universities, systems, and policymakers.
Dr. Keller's appointment as the sixth Commissioner of Higher Education and chief executive officer for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board was effective October 1, 2019.
Dr. Keller is a recognized innovator in policy and programs to improve college readiness and student success, especially for low-income and first-generation students. He is the founder and was Principal Investigator of the OnRamps dual enrollment initiative that provides college-level courses to tens of thousands of high school students across the state of Texas, and the Texas OnCourse initiative that works with Governor Greg Abbott's Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative to improve secondary college and career advising across the state.
He came to the Coordinating Board from The University of Texas at Austin, where he was Deputy to the President for Strategy and Policy and a Professor of Practice. Dr. Keller also served at UT Austin as Vice Provost for Higher Education Policy and Research, and Executive Director of the Office of Educational Innovation and the Center for Teaching and Learning. Prior to coming to UT Austin, Dr. Keller was Director of Research for the Texas House of Representatives and Senior Education Advisor for the Speaker of the Texas House.
Dr. Keller has taught at Georgetown University, St. Edward's University, and the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Georgetown University. He and his wife, Gena Nivens Keller, live in Austin with their three children.
Dr. Jonathan O. Woods
Director, Voluntary Education
Dr. Woods is the acting director of Voluntary Education in the office of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Education & Training). He entered federal service in 2004 and has directed voluntary education activities at the Installation, Region, Service, and Agency level. His programs affect the investment of over $600M in federal funding and about 140 million off-duty man-hours. Upon his 2021 return from a 13-month detail supporting U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, he successfully participated in a multi-agency, public/private endeavor to evacuate the family of his Afghan interpreter.
Dr. Woods is a Navy veteran of 130 combat support missions as a sensor operator and rescue swimmer in the SH-60B helicopter.
Dr. Joseph W. Wescott II
Legislative Liaison, Office of the Secretary - North Carolina Depart. of Military & Veterans Affairs
Joseph W. Wescott II (Joe) is the Legislative Liaison in the office of the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He also serves as National Legislative Liaison of the National Association of State Approving Agencies (NASAA) and is the National Higher Education Consultant for the American Legion. Previously, he served two terms on the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee on Education and he has served as NASAA President, Vice President and Legislative Director. Wescott was Executive Director of the North Carolina State Approving Agency (NCSAA) for almost a decade, an agency he now supervises in his role as NCDMVA Legislative Liaison. Prior to his service at the NCSAA, Wescott served in various leadership roles in higher education including director of the office of Planning, Policy and Evaluation at Brunswick Community College, federal relations analyst/government relations representative for Duke University and an adjunct instructor at several colleges and professional organizations. Dr. Wescott is a veteran, having served on active duty as a combat officer in the US Army. Earlier, he attended Wake Forest University on a four year Army ROTC scholarship, graduating with honors. He holds advanced degrees from Wake Forest University and North Carolina State University, including the doctorate in Higher Education Administration. In addition to other duties, Wescott serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy, Adult and Higher Education at NC State University. He serves on several national boards including the Council on College and Military Educators, the George W. Bush National Task Force on Higher Education and the Wake Forest National Alumni Council. Dr. Wescott has written several articles and books on history and higher education topics including veterans’ employment and the history of the North Carolina Community College System. Most recently he coauthored two major reports being released by the American Legion on online learning and education oversight. In 2010, Dr. Wescott was elected to the North Caroliniana Society for service to his home state and in 2013 to the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels for service to the state of Kentucky.
Dr. Merodie A. Hancock
Thomas Edison State University President
Dr. Merodie A. Hancock serves as the fourth president of Thomas Edison State University, having assumed office March 5, 2018, following an extensive national search.
She is a nationally recognized leader in the administration and delivery of innovative education programs for adult students. Access, success and completion make up Hancock's educational philosophy. Through decades of meaningful interaction with nontraditional learners, she says she knows empirically that education is the nexus through which one's capability is harnessed for positive personal and professional growth and societal impact. She has dedicated her career to serving a multitude of under-represented populations, including veterans and active-duty military members.
Prior to her election as president of Thomas Edison State University, she served as president of State University of New York Empire State College, where she was responsible for the operation of the school's 35 locations throughout New York, its worldwide online programs and eight international sites.
Previously, she served as vice president at Central Michigan University Global Campus and held administrative leadership and teaching positions at the University of Maryland University College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Dr. Hancock serves on the Nomination Committee for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame. She is also on the Transfer Committee of the New Jersey Presidents' Council. Dr Hancock is a member of the board of directors for Greater Trenton, Inc., New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
She previously served on the board of Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, Inside Track Advisory Board, the Distance Education Commission Advisory Group for the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the National Association of Institutions for Military Education Services (past president), United Way of Isabella County (Michigan), United Way of Greater Capital District (New York), and Special Olympics Michigan. She has served in active roles at the American Council on Education, Council of College and Military Educators, League for Innovation, and as a member of the National Commission on Online Learning Benchmarking Study.
As an external reviewer for several universities, she has participated in numerous self-studies, reports and evaluation visits for regional accreditors, the Department of Defense, state-approving agencies and specialized accrediting organizations. She speaks widely on such topics as strategic partnerships, pricing models, and innovative teaching best practices at professional conferences and meetings.
Dr. Hancock holds a PhD in urban services and education administration from Old Dominion University, an MBA from Claremont Graduate University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Scripps College. She holds certificates from the Institute of Educational Management, Harvard University and the University Professional Continuing Education Association Leadership Academy, New York University; a certificate in Process Design and Implementation: Reengineering and Change Management from Michael Hammer and Company; and a certificate in Nonprofit Board Leadership from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Grand Valley State University, Michigan.
Dr. Pamela L. Raymer
Associate Director, ACCESS Fort Knox, KY
Raymer was selected as the Chief of the Army Continuing Education System in November 2011. After the transition to TRADOC in 2020, she now serves as the Associate Director of the renamed directorate, Army Credentialing and Continuing Education Services for Soldiers (ACCESS). Prior to this assignment she served as the Education Director for Army Cadet Command Junior ROTC program. She was the Dean of Academics at Army Management Staff College from January 2007 to June 2010 launching the Civilian Education System. Previous assignments include Chief, SIGINT, Ft Huachuca, AZ; Director, Quality Assurance Office & Staff and Faculty, US Army Fires Center, Ft. Sill, OK; Director, Quality Assurance Office & Staff and Faculty, US Army Armor Center, Ft. Knox, KY; Strategic Concepts Officer, HQs, USAREC, Ft. Knox, KY; Education Director, US Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan. She has over 21 years of university and college teaching experience in graduate and undergraduate programs with the University of Louisville School of Education, Webster University School of Management and Central Texas College serving both as a resident and online instructor. Raymer also worked as a Recreation specialist with 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea and was a school counselor in Texas. She was selected as a DEOMI research intern and wrote the DoD publications – “See History in a New Way” and “Women in the Military.” In addition to publishing two pre-teen books on leadership in 2015, she is published in several professional journals- the Educational Technology Journal, Academic Exchange Quarterly, ASTD Training and Development Journal, the Fires Journal and the Journal of Installation Management along with publishing a Research Report for Army Research Institute. She has presented at the International ASTD conference, the national Federally Employed Women’s conference and numerous other state, regional and local conferences. She has completed numerous races – the Louisville Derby Triple Crown Races, the Army Ten-Miler four times and the Zama Tough Ten. She earned the German Fitness Badge – military gold standard. She owns 3 Tennessee Walking horses.
MSgt Isaiah Estrada
U.S. Air Force Reserve / Thomas Edison State University
MSgt Isaiah Estrada is currently serving in the Air Force Reserve as the Engineering Noncommissioned Officer in Charge at Lackland AFB. There he leads the engineering flight in construction inspection and management, AutoCAD design, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) data management, and land surveying. He has spent 7 of the past 10 years on active-duty orders supporting this role including a deployment to Iraq and Jordan.
Most recently, Isaiah has accepted an Air Force civilian position as a general engineer in the Civil Engineer Group at Lackland AFB. There he will be responsible for coordination with construction project managers and tenant units to obtain funding for and prioritize construction requirements across Joint Base San Antonio.
Isaiah holds associate degrees in engineering and construction technologies, a bachelor’s in mathematics, his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, and is working toward a masters in management at Thomas Edison State University.
Major General Charles K. Aris
Major General Army 36th Infantry Division Commander Austin, TX
Major General (MG) Charles K. Aris was commissioned as a Regular Army Armor officer in 1988 following graduation from Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Texas A&M, a Juris Doctorate from South Texas College of Law and a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from the Army War College. MG Aris began his career as a Tank Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer and Battalion S-4 in the 4th Battalion, 35th Armor, 5th Infantry Division in Fort Polk, LA.
He joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1993 and began his National Guard career as a Company Executive Officer in the 4th Battalion, 112th Armor. As a Captain, he has commanded companies in the 4th Battalion, 112th Armor in Rosenberg (Bravo Company) and Bryan, TX (Headquarters and Headquarters Company). He also served as a Communications – Electronics Officer in 4th Battalion, 112th Armor. During his service as a field grade, he has served as a Battalion S-3 in 4th Battalion, 112th Armor. Assistant G-3 Operations, and later as Deputy G-3 in the 49th Armor Division. He took command of 4th Battalion, 112th Armor in September 2004 and deployed to Kosovo as Commander of Task Force Houston in support of the Multi-National Brigade – East, as Camp Monteith’s Commander.
After completing his command, MG Aris became the Executive Officer of 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and later served as its Deputy Commander. In May 2009, he joined the 36th Infantry Division Headquarters (redesignated from 49th Armor Division) as the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3. In 2010, he deployed on a short tour with the United States Division – South, 1st Infantry Division as the Assistant G-3 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. He would later deploy in 2011 as the G-3 of United States Division – South, 36th Infantry Division in support of Operation New Dawn.
After deployment, MG Aris commanded the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He then commanded a second Infantry Brigade, the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He moved on to serve as the 36th Infantry Division Chief of Staff. In July 2016, MG Aris assumed the responsibilities as the Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver). During his deployment he served as the Commanding General for Resolute Support Train, Advise, Assist Command - South at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. MG Aris then served as the Commanding General for the 71st Troop Command from April 2018 to March of 2020. He was reassigned as the Commander, 36ID (Rear) and upon the 36ID return from Operation Spartan Shield assumed Command on 04 October 21.
In addition to attending the Army War College, MG Aris has completed the Command and General Staff Officers course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School. He is also a graduate of both the Armor Officer Basic and Advanced courses.
He currently is partner in a Civil Litigation firm in Dallas, Texas. He resides in Waxahachie, Texas with his wife Amy Aris of 32 years. They have two children, Matthew who is currently serving at Fort Hood and Kate Aris who is attending Texas A&M University.
Mr. Bart MacMillan
Chief, U.S. Marine Corps Voluntary Education Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia
Bart MacMillan serves currently as the Manager of Education (VolEd) Programs for the U.S. Marine Corps. He is located in Marine Family Headquarters on Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico. He had 20+ years as a fulltime and adjunct university professor, prior to going to work for Marine Corps Voluntary Education. He began in Marine Corps VolEd as an Education Services Specialist in Okinawa Japan in 2007. He relocated to Henderson Hall in Arlington VA, in 2009, and assumed the role as MC VolEd Chief in April 2020. His duties focus primarily on policy and regulations concerning the many Marine Corps personal and professional development programs and military education and credentialing benefits.
Mr. Christopher Deckard
National Anthem Singer & CCME Concurrent Session Coordinator
Chris Deckard is the Director of Military and Veteran Services at Dallas Baptist University. His department works with over 300 military-affiliated students per semester. He also serves as a member of the Veterans Business Alliance for the Arlington, TX Chamber of Commerce. Chris is a Veteran of the United States Air Force and holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Waldorf University.
Mr. Jalen Button
U.S. Navy Dependent / Trident University International
Mr. James D. Rodriguez
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy
James D. Rodriguez is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy for Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS); and as the principal for VETS, he is responsible for preparing America's veterans, service members and their spouses for meaningful careers. In this capacity and in Fiscal Year 2020, over 2,800 DOL Veterans’ Employment and Training Service staff, contractors, and grantees served over 370,000 veterans and military spouses across all Agency programs.
Mr. Rodriguez is an executive leader and proud veteran with over 30 years of experience in the U.S. government, corporate sector, and 21 years in the United States Marine Corps. He possesses a comprehensive background in program management, interagency collaboration, and policy development. He also has extensive senior-level experience building and managing multi-million-dollar budgets and large diverse teams while meeting the expectations of the President of the United States and large corporate enterprises. Additionally, he has demonstrated experience with developing and leading large scale international and national programs with a commitment to operational excellence, risk management and quality assurance.
Mr. Rodriguez’s recent executive experience includes leadership roles within Deloitte LLP’s Government and Public Sector practice and BAE Systems, Inc. Government Relations department. He also previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Office of Warrior Care Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2014 through 2017.
Mr. Rodriguez earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Maryland, University College and a Master of Arts in International Commerce and Policy from the George Mason University, School of Public Policy. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Government and Political Science in the University of Maryland, Global Campus.
Mr. Jim Johnson
U.S. Navy Voluntary Education Service Chief Arlington, VA
Mr. Johnson is a native of Chicago, Illinois and enlisted in the United States Navy in July 1989, serving 20 years before retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer and entering federal civil service.
Mr. Johnson supported the education and professional development of the enlisted workforce, active and reserve, for nearly 30 years. During his final active duty assignment, he managed enlisted career development programs for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
Following retirement from active duty, Mr. Johnson managed Education and Incentive Programs for the Navy Reserve until August 2015 when he was selected as Navy’s Voluntary Education Service Chief. Working for the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education), he oversees policy development for voluntary education, apprenticeship, certification and SkillBridge programs.
Mr. Jim Yeonopolus
Chancellor, Central Texas College
Jim Yeonopolus was appointed as Central Texas College’s (CTC) fourth chancellor in the institution’s 50-year history on November 19, 2015.
Mr. Yeonopolus has made substantial contributions to CTC since he launched his career at the college more than 40 years ago. He began as a counselor for student services and through hard work, tenacity and business acumen, Yeonopolus advanced into leadership roles as dean, assistant deputy chancellor, deputy chancellor and interim chancellor. Among other things, Yeonopolus has been an integral part of the success of CTC’s military education operations.
Before joining CTC, Yeonopolus completed a four-year tour of duty with the United States Air Force and served in the Vietnam conflict.
Mr. Yeonopolus holds a Master of Education from the University of Arizona; a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Texas State University and Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration from Temple College.
Yeonopolus is also extremely active in numerous trade and civic organizations. He is a past campaign chairman of the United Way of the Greater Fort Hood Area, past president of the Council of Colleges and Military Educators (CCME) and was awarded the William Kennedy Award in recognition of leadership in advancement of military education. Mr. Yeonopolus serves on the boards of the Central Texas Workforce Commission, Association of the United States Army (AUSA), National Association of Institutions for Military Education Services (NAIMES) and the Killeen Rodeo Association.
Mr. Yeonopolus was one of five people appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to the Task Force on Academic Credit and Industry Recognition. The task force was created during the 85thlegislative session to identify academic credit and industrial recognition for offenders within the Windham School at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Chancellor Yeonopolus was selected to serve as an Executive Council Member and Chair of the Texas State Delegation of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Most recently he was awarded the 2021 Congressional Veteran Commendation presented by U.S. Congressman John Carter for service to our nation and community.
Mr. Yeonopolus has been a Texas resident since 1959 and currently lives in Belton with his wife Nancy.
Mr. Merrick Van Dongen
Microsoft / CCME Corporate Liaison
As Senior Program Manager, Education and Workforce Development for Military Affairs at Microsoft, Merrick Van Dongen leads a team focused on the structure and delivery of curricula used within the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) program to serve transitioning service members and veterans, and manages partner and customer engagement on training and credentialing initiatives for military and service-connected audiences.
Merrick has worked in the education and training field for over 30 years with a focus on education program/product management as well as e-Learning, instructor-led, and blended curriculum solutions. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Universiteit Twente (Netherlands), Merrick holds a BSc degree in Marine Engineering and a MSc in Education & Training Systems Design. After serving as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy, Merrick has held successive education management, sales, and business support positions in the U.S. Navy and at the University of Victoria, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and SkillSoft Corporation, prior to joining Microsoft. Merrick's early career at Microsoft involved managing courseware product strategy to address academic and commercial audience needs through courseware publishing, learning content review programs, evaluation software delivery through publishers, and other learning products and services. Prior to joining Microsoft's Military Affairs team, Merrick oversaw Microsoft Worldwide Learning's courseware readiness efforts for Microsoft Learning Partners and Microsoft Certified Trainers using learning products developed to help students adopt, train on, and use Microsoft technologies worldwide.
Mr. Ryan Zieno
U.S. Navy Veteran / National University
Ryan spent most of his six years as a Navy Corpsman pursuing his education. He completed his undergraduate degree with SUNY Empire State College while stationed at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, and completed the majority of his Master of Public Health with National University while stationed with 1st Battalion, 3d Marines in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Some of his favorite memories from the military was helping other service members dream up possible career and education pathways, making sure those brainstorming sessions included the possibilities in or out of uniform.
Utilizing the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, Ryan conducted an internship with UnitedHealth Group and immediately transitioned to a provider relations position during his final days on leave before separating from the military. In 2021, Ryan took a new position in UnitedHealth Group as Program Manager, Strategic Engagement and Communications, as a part of the OptumInsight business.
Ryan has just started his second year at Baylor University pursuing a Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change. He has an appetite for leadership and study in social responsibility and veteran transition readiness.
Mr. Stephen Keck
Force Readiness Command Chief, FORCECOM Career Investment
Steve retired as an Army Lieutenant Colonel after 26 years in the Medical Service Corps. He recently became the Division Chief for the Career Investment Division within the USCG Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM). Steve's Career Investment portfolio includes Voluntary Education, Advanced Education, Military to Mariner, Voluntary Credentialing as well as Civilian Career Management programs. While working for the Coast Guard, Steve has also served as the Chief of the Civilian Career Management Office and as the Strategic Plans Officer for FORCECOM.
Prior to becoming “Semper Paratus” with the Coast Guard, Steve worked in the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Department of Veterans Affairs. He was the VA’s lead Representative for Vice President Biden’s White House initiative for the Detroit Federal Working Group, providing monthly briefings at the White House. Steve was also the Program Manager of an Economic Opportunities and outcomes initiative which created nearly ONE MILLION jobs for Veterans.
In his last position in the Army, he was the Recruiting and Retention Battalion Commander leading 120 Senior Non Commissioned Officers and Career Counselors supporting over 16,000 Reservists across Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Steve commanded Medical units at nearly every level in the Army and was deployed to Iraq, Haiti and Somalia.
Steve earned his Masters degree in Homeland Security from the University of Maryland. He is also a graduate of the Command and General Staff College. His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Expert Field Medical Badge, the Air Assault Badge and Four Meritorious Service Medals. He has been married 20 years and has 3 wonderful children!
Mr. Travis Allen
Senior Vice President of Trident University
Mr. Allen was the fifth President and Chief Executive Officer of Trident University. He currently serves as Senior Vice President of Trident. Mr. Allen joined the Trident team in 2015 and has over 19+ years of experience in higher education, including the areas of teaching, finance, student services, admissions, marketing, and general administration in universities within the United States and Australia.
He led and directed new campus start-ups, a large mature multi-campus turn-around, launched an online division, and retooled a large online division around student success.
Mr. Allen has been a faculty member for both campus and online course delivery. During his time as a faculty and staff member, he developed a deep passion for improving the student experience to enable student success, which has been the foundation of his leadership successes. Mr. Allen has maintained focus on the fundamental areas to support student success: EdActive Learning, Flexibility and affordability.
Mr. Vernon Hood Taylor
President of Workforce Training & Education Alliance (WTEA)
Vernon, is a proud Army Veteran, served 45 years in the Military education affiliated services. As the Director of Lifelong Learning and Transition Assistance for Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps and then the Associate Vice President for Military & VA Programs. He provided Military Service members, and their families with higher education opportunities by initiating the development of the Sailor Marine & Navy Transcript System (SART); recreating and establishing the Navy Apprenticeship Program to United Service Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) to be recognized by DOL and that all military services could participate. Vernon is currently a consultat with Serrato Corporation that operates 12 Job Corps throughout the country, sits on the Board of Trustees for Pacific Oaks College and on the Board of E-hired.com
Ms. Caroline C. Baxter
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force
Education and Training
Caroline Baxter was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Education and Training in August 2021. In this role, Ms. Baxter serves as the principal senior authority on the development of DoD policy on all issues related to military education and training across the joint force. Her responsibilities include military and joint training policy, professional military education, training capability modernization, financial readiness, career investment programs to include voluntary education, credentialing, and apprenticeship policy.
Immediately prior to her appointment, Ms. Baxter was a Research Fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation, where she led research on the trajectory of U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific. Previously, Ms. Baxter spent eleven years at the RAND Corporation where she focused on operational strategy, military doctrine and readiness, and defense acquisition. Her work included an analysis of the potential impact of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” an examination of Army operational roles in the Pacific, and construction of a war game for senior Air Force officers to test operational concepts. She was detailed twice to the Department of Defense - first to the Air Staff, and then to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, where she served as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary.
Ms. Baxter holds a B.A. with honors in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and an M.A. in International Security Policy from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband and son.
Ms. Desiree Butts
Desiree Butts is the Executive Director for Military & VA Programs at National University. In this role, she oversees admissions operations in the state of Virginia and military and veteran outreach activities for the eastern half of the United States and Puerto Rico.
Desiree joined National University in 2010 as the Administrative Manager, Military & VA Programs; Manager, Quantico Online Information Center; and Director, Military Center Operations & Outreach Activities before assuming her current role. Prior to joining National University's Military & VA Programs Division, Desiree served in various positions for Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps (HQMC) Lifelong Learning, assisting Service members and their families in their pursuit of higher education.
Desiree graduated from Park University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and a Master of Business Administration at National University in 2015.
Ms. Esmeralda Silva
Esmeralda Silva is currently the Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach Services at Trident University International (TUI). Esmeralda has been with TUI for 20+ years and her career has comprised of roles revolving around building strong relationships as this is key to creating lasting and trusting partnerships with university leaders, key military leaders and partners, corporate and nonprofit organizations who have a desire and commitment to changing lives through the "Power of Education."
Over the past seventeen years, Esmeralda has spent her time focused on changing lives through her commitment, dedication and belief that education is one of the most effective ways to improve a person's life. During her tenure, she held leadership roles within Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Administrative Services, Outreach & Partnerships, Military and Veteran Relations, Compliance and Regulatory Affairs, and Strategic Planning and Management, which has allowed her to create and implement integrated strategies as well as assist and collaborate with cross-departmental leaders to ensure a university-wide focus on student success. Currently in her role she oversees Military Relations, Corporate Relations, Alumni Relations and Career Planning and Workforce Strategies.
Esmeralda is actively involved in supporting and advocating for improved support and services for military members, veterans, and their families. She currently serves as President for California Advisory Council on Military Education, she is a member of LA Veteran Collaboration - Higher Education Working Group, she also serves as a member of Military Friendly Advisory Board and actively participates in national education Consortiums.
Esmeralda was born and raised in Washington state and currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and has two amazing sons Jalen and Christian.
Ms. Hildegard Buan
Chief, Air Force Voluntary Education Joint Base Andrews, Maryland
Hildegard Buan is the Chief of Air Force Voluntary Education in the Directorate of Force Development at Headquarters Air Force. In this position Ms. Buan develops and executes policies, programs, plans, and procedures concerning Air Force voluntary education and serves as the advisor to the HQ USAF Director, Manpower, Personnel and Services on issues related to the overall policy and guidance for all US Air Force Voluntary Education programs under Title 10 to include Military Tuition Assistance, Air Force Credentialing and Licensing Program, Air Force SkillBridge Program, Managing Your Education track under the Transition Assistance Program, manpower and budget issues, testing programs, education program development and assessment requirements. Ms. Buan is a career civil servant having experience in Voluntary Education, Military and Civilian Training, Civilian Personnel, and other force support/ development programs.
Previous assignments included Chief, Voluntary Education, HQ AFMC, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH; Chief, Force Development Flight, RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom; Director, Education Services, RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom; Director, Education Services, RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom; Deputy Director, Education Services, RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom; Director, Education Services, Cannon AFB, New Mexico; Deputy Director, Education Services, Hickam AFB, Hawaii; Academic Guidance Counselor, Hickam AFB, Hawaii; Palace Acquire Intern/Academic Guidance Counselor, Hickam AFB, Hawaii and Employee Management Relations Specialist, Lindsay AS, Germany.
Ms. Mary L. Glenn
Deputy Executive Director, Contract Medical Disability Examination (MDE) Compensation Service
Mary Glenn was appointed Deputy Executive Director of Contract Medical Disability Examination (MDE) on October 30, 2016. As Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Glenn is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the new Contract Examination Staff. She monitors contractor performance for 14 mandatorily funded disability examination contracts as well as ancillary contracts totalling $6.8 billion. Ms. Glenn in her Senior Executive role not only has the responsibility of managing a multi-billion dollar budget, but she also provides oversight, and supervision of personnel, to include leading working groups/initiatives inside and outside VA. She manages a staff responsible for recommendations and decisions involving significant policy matters that impact program operations, other business lines, and result in substantial changes to benefits and/or services.
Prior to her appointment as the Deputy Executive Director of MDE, Ms. Glenn served as the Acting Deputy Director of Operations, Compensation Service. In this position, she was responsible for the development and implementation of policies and procedures related to the administration of VA disability and death compensation programs. As a result of these claims, VA issued over $60 billion in benefits to nearly four (4) million Veterans and their dependents. In addition, she provided oversight to the Quality Assurance Center in Nashville, Tennessee, ensuring accuracy and consistency of the claims process by the Veterans Benefits Administration. Ms. Glenn has also served in leadership roles at multiple VA Regional Offices. She has served as Acting Director of the Boston, Houston, San Juan Regional Offices, and the Appeals Management Center proving herself instrumental in the administration of compensation, pension, home loan guaranty, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.
Compensation Service employs more than 340 personnel who administer benefit programs that in Fiscal Year 2018 paid over $86.8 billion in benefits to almost five (5) million Veterans and their beneficiaries.
Ms. Rachel Myles
Central Texas College
Rachel Myles is a 2021 graduate of Lampasas High School who earned dual credit ahead of her current full-time enrollment at Central Texas College. The proud daughter of an E9 Command Sergeant Major (retired) father and an E8 Master Sergeant (retired) mother, Rachel utilizes Chapter 35 VA benefits to fund her post-secondary education. In addition to her current enrollment in both face-to-face and online courses, Rachel is a student worker assigned within the Veteran Services department at Central Texas College assisting students processing VA and tuition assistance documents. Inspired by her West Point graduate older sister and active duty Air Force Staff Sergeant older brother, Rachel intends to complete her Associate of Arts degree in General Studies at Central Texas College then transfer to Texas Southern University to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aviation Science along with concurrent enrollment in their Professional Pilot Program.
SEAC Ramón "CZ" Colón-López
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
SEAC Ramón "CZ" Colón-López is the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior enlisted service member, by position, in the United States Armed Forces, and the principal military advisor to the Chairman on all matters involving joint and combined total force integration, utilization, health of the force, and joint development for enlisted personnel.
SEAC Colón-López enlisted in the United States Air Force in December 1990. He has held assignments in U.S. Air Forces Europe, Air Combat Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Education and Training Command, Pacific Air Forces, Joint Special Operations Command, and Air Forces Central Command. He has deployed numerous times in support of operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Resolute Support, Inherent Resolve, and to several other classified locations. Prior to assuming his current position, he served as the Command Senior Enlisted Leader for United States Africa Command.
SSG Shilo Harris
U.S. Army Ret. and Motivational Speaker
Shilo Harris came from a family with deep roots in military service. As a son of a Vietnam veteran, Shilo always knew he wanted to be a soldier. On September 11th, 2001, his life changed forever. Shortly afterward he enlisted as a Cavalry Scout in the US Army. His first deployment was to Schweinfurt, Germany with the 1st Infantry Division. From Germany Shilo headed to war-torn Iraq.
On his second deployment, with the 10th Mountain Division, he was assigned and worked near southern Baghdad. On February 19, 2007, Harris’ armored vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). The explosion injured the driver and ended three fellow soldiers’ lives. Shilo survived with severe third degree burns on 35% of his body. The severity of the burns meant the loss of Shilo’s ears, the tip of his nose and three fingers. The crushing explosion fractured his left collarbone and C-7 vertebrae, damaged his lungs and scared him with TBI, PTS, NDE, and Survivor Guilt.
The devastating injuries required that Shilo remain in a medically induced coma for 48 days. After, he spent nearly three years recovering, which included undergoing intensive physical therapy and surgeries at the burn unit of Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC), now known as SAMC in San Antonio, TX. While at BAMC, he was the first soldier to participate in cutting-edge regenerative stem-cell research to regrow his fingers, and later received prosthetic ears. Shilo’s recovery has involved more than 80 surgeries (to date as there are surgeries required for the remainder of his life), which at times, has required his family to spend up to six hours a day on wound care. In 2010, he chose to medically retire from the Army. Shilo reflects on his time in the service that led him to his injuries: “Everything in life is a gift. Sometimes it may not be the gift you want but you realize that your challenges are a new beginning.”
Shilo is a dedicated sweetheart to Jamie PK, and active father. He hopes to leave a strong legacy for his family. Today, Shilo is a motivational speaker, sharing his story with corporate groups, Veterans and medical teams around the world on, yet not limited to: how to overcome adversity, balance personal and professional life, motivational leadership, customer service success, raising awareness of physical, emotional and mental scars of war, and serving as an inspiration to fellow soldiers/veterans and their families. Shilo shares his inspiring story in his memoir, Steel Will: My Journey Through Hell to Become the Man I was Meant to Be (September 1, 2014; Baker Books). He is currently working on additional publications with Jamie PK on goal-achieving, relationships, and endurance. His short film, Shilo, released in 2018, which is currently in the works for a feature film.
(Photo credit - Tony Gatlin, fellow Veteran, 911 Pentagon Survivor and owner of Strictly Art Photography)