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Len Harris

New Leadership at IJF

The Illinois Joining Forces Foundation (IJF) Board of Directors recently announced the hiring of LTC Jaime Martinez (USA Retired) as the next Executive Director (ED) of the Illinois Joining Forces Foundation. Martinez was selected following a national search conducted by Chamberlain Advisors supported by the McCormick Foundation from a large pool of qualified candidates. He will be assuming the role following COL Andrew C. Dillon, USAR, who has successfully led IJF since assuming the Interim Executive Director responsibilities in March 2017.

COL Dillon came to IJF following successful military assignments and a civilian career in supply chain management, sales, and finance. “When I was approached to help during their transition period, I was incredibly honored,” said Dillon, “IJF is committed to helping and informing service members, veterans, and their families in Illinois.” Dillon credits many for the success of the organization, “from the IJF team, to our funders, to the Board, to the collaborative partners…everyone was dedicated to one mission, one purpose,” he said, “Serving those who have served.”

Dillon will assist Martinez during the transition period, something these two former Army commanders know so well. “It’s a left-seat/right-seat ride,” said Martinez, referring to the Army’s term for Change of Command procedures, “it will be an honor to lead the IJF Team.” The IJF Board of Directors recognized Dillon for his significant contributions. “Andrew guided IJF through a tough transition,” said Tom Miller, IJF Board Chair, “And he leaves the organization much better than he found it…and in capable hands.”

The incoming Executive Director, Jaime Martinez, is a U. S. Army veteran who served in the Infantry for 26 years and participated in numerous deployments with significant combat experience. He is already familiar with the mission of IJF, having formerly been the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs General Counsel who assisted in the development and implementation of IJF’s founding. In addition to his multiple front-line combat leadership positions, Martinez was assigned as a policy advisor to numerous senior level national security and defense policy makers and elected officials, to include: Staff Secretary to the Vice President, Military Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense, Army Fellow to the US Senate Armed Services Committee, and Legislative Liaison to the Under Secretary of the Army. In 2010, Martinez returned home to Illinois to serve as an attorney and veteran advocate after his medical retirement from the Fort Belvoir Wounded Warrior Battalion. Since then his service to veterans includes Staff Attorney to the John Marshall Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic, General Counsel to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Senior Counsel to Student Veterans of America, and most recently as Program Manager for the CARPLS Veteran Project supporting the statewide Illinois Armed Forced Legal Aid Network.

As the IJF Executive Director, Martinez will provide leadership to maintain the strategic and day-to-day operational functions of the organization. “We are delighted to have Jaime Martinez stepping up

as the new IJF Executive Director and expect that he will lead IJF with the same professionalism that he has displayed throughout his career of service,” said Miller.


The Illinois Joining Forces mission is to establish, maintain and nurture a state-wide public and private organizational network that will identify, collaborate, and marshal available resources, services and supports to create efficient access and delivery of these programs for Illinois’ military and veteran communities.


Military Resource Radio (Part 4)

In this episode of Military Resource Radio, Len Harris – Operations Manager of Illinois Joining Forces and the host of Military Resource Radio – Tony Gatliff – finish up their 4-part interview and talk about Len’s passion for his work, and the partnership between BBMC Mortgage and Illinois Joining Forces. As well, Tony sits down with Gold Star Father, Kris Hager, who lost his son – Joshua – in combat in 2007. The pair discuss the recent news relating to Gold Star Families, the congresswoman from Florida, Donald Trump and Trump White House Chief of Staff and 4-Star Marine General John Kelly as it relates to this recent current event. This is a very timely episode of Military Resource Radio.



Military Resource Radio (Part 3)

In this episode of Military Resource Radio, your host Tony Gatliff continues his conversation with Army veteran and Operations Manager for Illinois Joining Forces – Len Harris.  Len and Tony have a wide ranging conversation, including continuing their conversation about the band Blues Traveler from last week, Len’s transition out of the military to being a civilian, helping other veterans transition out of the military, the work ethic and drive of members of the military, the great work the folks at Illinois Joining Forces are doing and much more. 



Military Resource Radio (Part 2)

In the second part of his four-part series with Len Harris of Illinois Joining Forces, the host of Military Resource Radio – Tony Gatliff – and his guest attack a variety of topics like Len’s 22 year military career, moving into teaching broadcasting to new recruits, Len’s experiences with the American Forces Network, traveling to many different countries for his career in the military, being over in Iraq during “The Surge”, the fact that Len is a master Foosball player, not to mention his experiences with former POTUS George W. Bush and John Popper of the band “Blues Traveler”.  



Military Resource Radio (Part 1)

In this episode of Military Resource Radio, your host Tony Gatliff welcomes Len Harris – Operations Manager for Illinois Joining Forces.  Tony and Len dive deep on a bevy of subjects, including BBMC Mortgage’s Patriot’s Charity Initiative and their relationship with Illinois Joining Forces, Len’s upbringing in San Jose, his love for the theater and performing arts, his moves across the country to New York City and Omaha, how his job as a security guard started his career in the military in an unexpected way, becoming a broadcast journalist in the Army, being a morning radio host in Japan and much, much more… Don’t miss this entertaining episode of  Military Resource Radio!





Cycling Across America to Support Veterans

Tracy R. Sefcik and Martin J. Conlon are the founders of Cross Country Cycle for Vets.  This heady cycling adventure across the lower part of the U.S. is designed to raise money for veterans.  All donations will go to the Gary Sinise Foundation which creates and supports programs that entertain, inspire, and strengthen military and veteran communities.  Tracy is a U.S. Navy veteran, and she tells us a little about herself, and the story behind Cross Country Cycle for Vets.

Although I’m no longer in uniform, I still want to express my support for my fellow veterans and 1st Responders. I feel that once you have served in uniform, you are always in uniform.  You take that oath for life. I would do it all over again if I had too with no hesitation.

I grew up in New Lenox, IL, and after school I joined the U.S. Navy, and served for 4 years.  After bootcamp in Orlando, FL my first duty station was Yokosuka, Japan aboard the USS Kittanning.  I also served at Coronado, CA, working with the Navy Seal Team. I was then a Navy spouse for 15 years.

I also come from a very long line of military veterans.  Just to mention a few, a 4th great-grandfather in the Revolutionary War, a 2nd great-grandfather in the Civil War, an uncle shot down over France during WWII who later became missing in action during the Korean War (7 Nov 1950), and my father being in the Navy on the USS Courtney.

Now for my next chapter in my life, I will be cycling across the United States with Martin. We started biking a few years ago in which we will be making this journey together and will face many challenges while riding across from San Diego CA, to St Augustine, FL. Mostly that big mountain range getting out of CA

On March 2nd, 2018, Martin and I will begin our Cross Country Cycle 4 Vets journey.  The trip will take us over 3142 of our great country, from San Diego, CA to St Augustine, FL.  All money raised goes to support my fellow veterans and 1st Responders through the Gary Sinise Foundation. We will be starting our journey from the flight deck of the U.S.S. Midway.  This ship has special memories of my Navy days in Yokosuka, Japan.  A big “thank you” to the Navy for letting us start our journey aboard the Midway, since my Navy journey started waking up next to you in Japan when I was stationed on the USS Kittanning.  We will then be guided through the streets of San Diego by the Memorial Truck driven by Dane Kaimuloa, to Ocean Beach Park to dip our tires in the Pacific Ocean, then off we go on the start of our journey to Florida.  As we arrive in St Augustine, we will be guided in by the AmVets Freedom Riders to end our journey by dipping our tires in the Atlantic at St Augustine Beach on May 6th.


Both Martin and I felt we needed to do something to support our veterans.  We wanted to find any way to help them with the challenges that some undoubtedly face today.  This is our way of shining a light, and letting them know that they are appreciated for all they do for us… for their sacrifices and unwavering commitment to our Nation.

We would like to thank all our sponsors, endorsements, and everyone that has donated to Cross Country Cycle 4 Vets in support of the Gary Sinise Foundation. Let’s keep those donations coming so we can exceed our goal of $50,000.

Donations can be made on our website:

Follow us on Facebook / Instagram: crosscountrycycle4vets

Veterans Choice Program Law Changes

On April,19 2017, The President signed a law that removes the August 7, 2017 expiration date and allows VA to utilize funding dedicated to the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) until it is exhausted.

The VCP is a critical program that increases access to care for Veterans by authorizing millions of appointments for Veterans in the community.

The fact sheet below highlights the three changes made to the VCP. You can also view the fact sheet by clicking this link: Choice Extension Fact Sheet FINAL

Choice Extension Fact Sheet FINAL_Page_1 Choice Extension Fact Sheet FINAL_Page_2

Holistic Approaches to Healing



In recent years, holistic wellness methods have seen growing popularity in the veteran service arena. Holistic wellness approaches physical, mental, and spiritual well-being from a natural healing perspective, as opposed to prescription medication. This can include healing touch, tai chi, yoga, meditation, diet, and nature therapy.


IJF member organizations Chicago Botanic Gardens and Thresholds have partnered to implement nature healing programs for veterans. These horticultural therapy programs leverage the soothing power of gardening to treat PTSD and other mental health issues. The effects have proven transformative for individual participants, and scientists have found that exposure to the outdoors increases serotonin and generates powerful spiritual development through giving back to Mother Nature.


Additionally, Chicago is a hotspot for urban farming, an approach that attempts to facilitate these same benefits right in our city. Recent summers have seen a spike in the number of urban farms throughout the city, with many popping up in underserved communities whose residents don’t have easy access to fresh produce. Some, such as Windy City Harvest or Wood Street Urban Farm in Englewood, offer pathways to employment for those struggling to obtain a steady income, as many veterans who come through IJF may be. Many urban farms also provide or partner with other organizations to teach participants tools for using produce in a cost-efficient and nutritious way.


These holistic approaches may seem outside the box, but veteran services have already started to realize their power. While VA medical centers are often thought to be grounded in more traditional healing approaches, the Jesse Brown VA is one example of a VA facility that has embraced holistic wellness through their Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatment clinic. Among other things, participants can grow vegetables in an on-site garden and turn them into wholesome, nutritious meals.


Do you think holistic wellness is a good strategy for veterans? What sorts of holistic wellness programs would you like to see offered through the VA? Let us know in the comments below!



See also:

By: Caitlin Hodes

Member Org Spotlight: Lewis University

IJF supports and uplifts our member organizations, and this includes highlighting the important and innovative work they are doing every day. We will be profiling member organizations on our blog through an ongoing series. We hope to inspire conversation and connection between member organizations, the communities they serve, and anyone else who is passionate about ensuring no veteran, service member or a family member falls through the cracks.

Lewis University is a non-profit Catholic University located in Romeoville. More than 553 Lewis University students are Active Duty, Reserve, Cadet, and Family Members using G.I. Bill benefits or Veterans. Many of the students of Lewis University participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Funded through Lewis University and the Department of Veteran Affairs, this program provides 100 percent of student tuition expenses if they have 100 percent level of Post 9/11 entitlement. We recently spoke with Director of Veterans Affairs and Recruitment at Lewis University, Roman Ortega Jr., about how he works with student veterans to ensure success.

Tell us a little about yourself

I have been in the service for 18 years, served about 11 years on active duty in the U.S. Army and 7 in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Half of my time was in the infantry, and the other half was in military intelligence. I did deployment overseas in multiple capacities ranging from combat to humanitarian aid.

I got my master’s degree at Lewis University while on active duty in the U.S. Army.

 What is your philosophy behind how you provide services to students?

I try to focus on a wraparound service model: Social, Academic, Financial, Community, and Career. Many veterans transitioning out of the military want to go to school and then move back into careers. We have a team of 11 of us that strive to do the best in providing support during a potentially challenging transition.

What does wrap-around service model mean?

We help them with the most fundamental questions regarding admission and application process, we assist them to get registered, we enable access to benefits while in school. We also provide support through a student veteran group and a Vet Ally program which helps faculty and staff support veteran students. Then we empower them with employment opportunities to make sure they are set up for success upon graduation.

Can you tell us about any advantages student veterans have?

On average, student veterans tend to have a slightly higher graduation rate than civilians at Lewis. They tend to do well academically and in leadership roles at the University. The retention and persistence rate at Lewis University is over 80 percent for our student veterans, which is well above the national average for higher education. Their loan and debt rate are also very low which means they are graduating with less financial burden.

What about any unique challenges student veterans face?

We have student veterans who have families. They are typically married. They often have a part-time job or full-time job. They have got a lot to balance. They are very cognizant of their time, and what they are going to do with that time. Sometimes this equates to less participation in campus activities comparatively speaking to the traditional student. That is the biggest challenge.

Thank you to Roman Ortega for speaking with us! Check out Lewis University on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.







Hot Topics: Veteran Art Projects You Should Check Out

In our “Hot Topics” series, we aim to amplify veteran and military stories and trends in the news, whether these be heavily covered national issues or local stories. From topics such as changes in the Navy rating system to the growing trend of veteran owned breweries, the goal of this series is to spark conversation and awareness of military and veteran issues today.

Veterans and art. Think these two words don’t have much in common? Think again. This post is the first of a series about contemporary art projects relating to veterans. Stay tuned for more!

The Veteran Vision Project

The Veteran Vision Project is a photo essay by photographer Devin Mitchell. The photographs feature service members looking in the mirror. Sounds simple, right? The catch is that one of the images of the service member depicts them in their uniform, while in the other they are in civilian attire. Whether through a sari or a football uniform, an easel or a skateboard, or a break dancing pose, the image of the service member in civilian clothing showcases their personality quirks and hobbies.

Mitchell told Mic that he hopes these photographs help people “come away with a better understanding” of those who fight in America’s wars, and draw attention to the fact that veterans are individuals with a wide variety of interests and personalities.

Check out the Veteran Vision Project website to see the photographs.


source: Veteran Vision Project Facebook Page