Teaming up on The War Horse Symposium illustrates the power of the Veteran Leadership Program network

Essay By
Babs Chase
Guest Author

Babs Chase is a 2021 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar and Alumni Committee Member.

I met Thomas Brennan, founder and Executive Director of The War Horse, during the 2021 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program and spent a memorable afternoon with him wandering an empty park rehearsing pitches for our personal leadership projects.

Thomas, a Marine veteran, is a husband, a father, a survivor, an unapologetic disruptor, and a gifted writer. As we discussed our projects – designed to implement what we learn in the program to support improving outcomes for the military-connected community – I gained a better understanding of The War Horse and the incredible dedication of its leader and also began a friendship.

The War Horse is a nonprofit news organization which works to improve public understanding of the human impact of military service. It has received top industry awards for excellence in investigative reporting and multimedia storytelling since its founding in 2016. Its work has spurred many changes in military policy and federal law. The War Horse has emerged as a trusted source for military reporting in an era of disappearing independent newsrooms and the growing prevalence of misinformation and disinformation. A survey conducted as part of Thomas’ personal leadership project showed 98% reader satisfaction.

I joined the Veteran Leadership Program alongside 48 other mission-focused individuals serving our Nation’s veterans and their families – all of us motivated to grow as leaders and broaden our influence across the country. Though our demographics and experiences are diverse, we share a commitment to improving outcomes for those who serve. What makes this program special is the overwhelming focus on making friendships – not contacts – and determining how to harness our shared power to impact change.

I have spent my career building relationships to positively impact mission-focused organizations. In 2018, I launched my public affairs consulting business, Chase Magnolia Partners, to maximize partnerships and connect influencers to support clients striving to make an impactful difference in their community, the Nation, and the world. When comedian, political commentator, and television host Jon Stewart agreed to participate in The War Horse Symposium on April 6, Thomas knew he was in unchartered territory but in a landscape that I know well, so he gave me a call. There is nothing more professionally rewarding than sharing your expertise with friends you believe in.

The symposium, hosted by The War Horse and the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, will explore how to facilitate civil discourse and engagement across the United States on military and veterans’ issues and will specifically look at the role journalism and public policy can play. The daylong gathering of top journalists, world-class scholars, and senior officials from the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs will engage with the public on the human impact of military service.

The War Horse is committed to telling stories that will drive policy change in support of those who wear the cloth of our country and the families who serve alongside them. Its efforts and the upcoming symposium raise awareness of this population and the thousands of organizations championing them as well. While designed to highlight national security issues, the event also serves as a testament to what’s possible when the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program family works toward a common goal.

There are so many in this community who have eagerly stepped up to provide support in a variety of capacities around this symposium – that’s the magic of the Veteran Leadership Program.

Captain Derek Moore of the Ohio National Guard was serving on the border for most of our cohort, and he will be on stage sharing his personal story of service and the impact on his family. John Boerstler from the Department of Veterans Affairs is showcasing the VA’s support of the symposium on the department’s blogs and newsletter platforms. The event content has the potential to strongly impact future journalists, public policy leaders, and others, so we engaged Andrew Newby from the University of Mississippi and Frank Goertner from the University of Maryland to spread the message through their campuses and others in academia.

Tina Atherall of PsychArmor and many others are using their megaphones to amplify this event. Melissa Stirling from Hilton is supporting with hotel rooms for the team. Angel Torres and Elizabeth Pletcher opened their contact lists to champion the event with the 2022 Veteran Leadership Program cohort and Chicago networks. There are many others spreading information on social media and joining us for this inaugural event.

My biggest takeaway from the Veteran Leadership Program was not just learning the type of leader I want to be but raising the bar on the types of leaders I want to be around. Though our demographics and experiences are diverse, we share a commitment to improving outcomes for those who serve. We are fortunate to have been given this opportunity to grow individually and collectively.

To whom much is given, much is expected. The Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program invested in all of us. Now it’s our turn to change the world together.