June 27, 2023
2023 Out Leaders List
Out in National Security and New America are pleased to honor the contributions of 50 LGBTQIA+ experts in U.S. national security and foreign policy. This year’s list features experts currently serving in government, the military, think tanks, academia, and non-governmental organizations. We proudly celebrate our community's contributions to advancing peace and security in the United States and abroad.
We applaud our national security enterprise's efforts to build on LGBTQIA+ presence and voices in our institutions and advance LGBTQIA+ rights at home and abroad. As President Biden proclaimed, “We honor the resilience of LGBTQI+ people, who are fighting to live authentically and freely. We reaffirm our belief that LGBTQI+ rights are human rights. And we recommit to delivering protections, safety, and equality to LGBTQI+ families so that everyone can realize the full promise of America.”
We are happy that our honorees have demonstrated so much character, resilience, and determination to live authentically in a field that is not always welcoming or inclusive.
When there are more than 200 anti-transgender bills before state houses across the country, when LGBTQIA+ books are banned, and when drag queen story hours and Pride celebrations are under attack, we’re grateful that our honorees have stood up to be counted and say, “gay.”
So, we hope you’ll join us this year by reviewing this stellar lineup of individuals and recognize their hard work with us, especially as we celebrate Pride Month.
Thank you to the evaluators - selected from honorees of years past - who supported our review process. Selection is based on: thoughtful and incisive responses to our application, demonstrated excellence and leadership in their field, and dedication to supporting the LGBTQIA+ and other intersectional communities. Finally, we work hard to create a list that represents the breadth of our national security community and, at the same time, the rich diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community. (Disclaimer: New America does not directly participate in the evaluation process, which is led by Out in National Security.)
Congratulations to our honorees, and happy Pride to all!
~ Luke Schleusener, James Osyf, and Rusty Pickens
Acadia Brooks is a Subject Matter Expert on Economic and Social Development at the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). She is an advocate for global human rights and is passionate about reforming the commodification of women's rights in international diplomacy. Born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Acadia graduated cum laude from Colby College in Maine. At Colby, she began her career-long inquiry into how the United States deploys the concept of internationally standardized women's rights to navigate complex security issues in the Middle East.
Prior to moving to Washington, D.C. in 2019, Acadia gained experience in the corporate advertising and non-profit sectors in New York. She graduated with a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University in 2021. At Georgetown, Acadia served on the School of Foreign Service graduate Student Government Association, published multiple articles for the Georgetown Security Studies Review, and worked as a research assistant to Dr. Tammy Schultz. She also completed a certificate with the Arab Studies program and gained full professional fluency in Arabic in two years.
Before joining SIGAR, Acadia was the MENA graduate fellow at McLarty Associates. She has also reported extensively for the independent publication Foreign Brief.
Her current work on topics such as the future of women's rights under the Taliban and the demise of the independent media in Afghanistan can be found at www.sigar.mil.
A defense policy analyst since 1984, Jeremiah Gertler is a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Aerospace Security Project. Gertler is also senior analyst for the Teal Group market intelligence firm, where he edits Teal’s annual World Civil UAS Market Profile and Forecast and military aspects of its World Military & Civil Aircraft Briefing. He is director of The Defense Concepts Organization, an analytical consultancy, and co-host of The Air Power Podcast from Defense & Aerospace Report.
He was the military aviation analyst for the Congressional Research Service, Congress’s in-house policy shop, for 12 years, where he testified before Congressional committees; briefed members and staff on all related policy, budget, technical, and other matters; and wrote and maintained reports on major military aviation programs (manned and unmanned, all services.)
In previous Capitol Hill billets, he oversaw the entire defense procurement and missile defense budgets on the professional staff of the House Committee on Armed Services for FY2000 through 2005, responsible for $78 billion a year, and earlier served as military legislative assistant to a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
As senior fellow at CSIS, he was principal author or co-author of major reports on Department of Defense reform and missile defense, and initiated studies on reserve component roles and missions, systems acquisition, military logistics, and Special Forces aviation. Subsequently, Gertler established a defense policy and analysis center for the Aerospace Industries Association.
Gertler was extensively involved in the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review while in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He was senior analyst for the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission during its 1995 round, and began his career in 1984 as a national security analyst with the RAND Corporation.
An award-winning writer, Gertler’s commentaries have appeared in Defense News, Naval Institute Proceedings, Air Force magazine, and the Washington Post, among others, and on national television and radio. He has also written many speeches, op-eds, and other public policy statements for members of Congress and Administration officials and is principal author of a popular book explaining the defense establishment for laypeople.
He is a graduate of Amherst College, the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, and the United States Naval War College. He was named a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 2021.
George E. Bogden
Dr. George E. Bogden is an Olin Fellow at Columbia Law School. He is also a Strategy & Policy Fellow funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation and a Senior Visiting Researcher at Bard College. Previously, he served as a George F. Kennan Fellow at the Kennan Institute, and the German Marshall Fund’s Helmut Schmidt Fellow, based in Berlin.
Before completing his graduate education, he served as an inaugural Senior Fellow at the Hungary Foundation, in residence in Budapest, as well as the first Associate Director of the Center for the Future of Liberal Society at the Hudson Institute. Dr. Bogden’s commentary has appeared in The Atlantic, GMFUS’s Paper Series, The Wall Street Journal, War on the Rocks, The American Interest, The Wavell Room, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and the Marine Corps University Press.
Before defending his dissertation, he undertook a Fulbright Fellowship in Kosovo. Dr. Bogden’s research has been recognized by the Brussels Forum Young Writers Award and the Trench Gascoigne Essay Contest. He is a Rockefeller Fellow at the Trilateral Commission, a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as a member of Chatham House and IISS.
Lt Nick Grant, PhD, ABPP
Clinical Psychologist/Lieutenant, US Navy
LT Grant currently serves as the Group Psychologist for Commander, Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific where he oversees the psychological care for the Sailors assigned to all surface ships homeported in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. His leadership roles include Department Head of the Embedded Mental Health Department and Mental Health Advisor to the Commander. Additionally, he serves as faculty in the Tripler Army Medical Center Clinical Psychology Postdoctoral Residency Program, supervising an interservice clinical rotation serving surface warfighters. In 2022, LT Grant was selected by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ 21st Century Sailor Office as a Fellow in the International Career Advancement Program.
LT Grant completed his first tour at Naval Medical Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) San Diego from 2019 to 2021 where he served as the Division Officer of the Mental Health Unit of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. In addition to this role, he co-led the base’s Psychological Health Committee. He additionally served as the chair of the Grand Rounds Committee for NMRTC San Diego’ Directorate of Mental Health and co-chair of the Naval Medical Forces Pacific Transgender Care Team. In the fall of 2019, LT Grant deployed to the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN during its time in the Fifth Fleet. He served as the lead for a Mental Health Augmentation Team which spent the final three months of the ship’s record-breaking deployment supporting the crew. In the spring of 2020, he deployed again, this time serving as lead mental health clinician aboard the USNS MERCY during its defense support of civilian authorities mission to provide hospital relief to Los Angeles in response to COVID-19.
LT Grant commissioned into the US Navy via the Navy Psychology Licensed Direct Accession program in 2019. He is a native of Southern California and prior to joining the Navy, he worked as a Clinical Psychology Subject Matter Expert at the Defense Health Agency’s Psychological Health Center of Excellence and as a clinical researcher in the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences supporting research on military suicide prevention.
LT Grant obtained two master’s degrees prior to completing his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Palo Alto University in 2015. As a part of his doctorate, he completed his pre-doctoral internship at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. He then completed a fellowship focused in minority mental health in the Clinical Psychology Postdoctoral Residency at the VA San Diego Healthcare System/University of California, San Diego Program. LT Grant then served as an American Psychological Association (APA) Congressional Fellow in the Office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), supporting the Senator’s military, veteran and healthcare legislative portfolios as well as her role on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In 2021 LT Grant became the first US Navy lieutenant and earliest career psychologist to be elected as Fellow of the APA. He currently serves as President of the board of directors for GLMA, a national nonprofit organization focused on LGBTQ+ health equality. He is the recipient of Presidential Citations from both the APA and Society for Military Psychology, Arthur W. Melton Early Achievement Award from the Society for Military Psychology. Early Career Achievement Award from the APA, Distinguished Contribution to Public Policy Award from The Society of Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, and Distinguished Alumni Award from Palo Alto University.
Ph.D. Candidate / Monash University's ARC Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEVAW)
Priya Dhanani (she/her) is a queer feminist and social justice activist. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Social and Political Science and is affiliated with the new ARC Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence against Women at Monash University in Melbourne.
Previously, Priya was the Assistant Director at The Asia Foundation overseeing the portfolio to prevent gender-based violence (GBV), including violence against women and girls and LGBTQIA+ persons. She has worked in East and West Africa, Central America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands to advance the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda, address GBV in conflict, and integrate trauma-informed and survivor-centered approaches.
Priya started her career at a grassroots organization called FAIR Girls as a case manager providing direct services to survivors of human trafficking, where she became the Director of Prevention Education. Further, she served as the Board Chair for the Asian Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project and is a member of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation.
Priya incorporates the theory of oppression and power to fundamentally address GBV and decolonize the field of international development and security. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Gender Studies from Georgia State University and a master’s degree in Sociology from George Washington University, where she was also a part-time sociology professor.
LCDR Nathan Sawyer
Naval Officer, United States Navy
A native of Yuba City, CA, Lieutenant Commander Nathan Sawyer received his commission from the United States Naval Academy (USNA) and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, with a concentration in International Relations, in May 2012.
After completing primary and intermediate naval flight training in Pensacola, Florida, he reported to Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 120 in Norfolk, Virginia for training in the E-2C Hawkeye, earning his wings of gold in 2014.
Upon completion of his initial training, Sawyer reported to VAW-113 at Naval Base Ventura Country (NBVC), Point Mugu, California in February 2015. While assigned to the “Black Eagles” he deployed aboard the USS George Washington (CVN 73) on her Southern Seas Deployment and aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) for a Western Pacific (WESTPAC) Deployment in support of numerous Multi-National Exercises fostering security and stability in the Fourth and Seventh Fleet Areas of Operation.
Following the completion of his initial sea tour, he attended the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (CAEWWS) Hawkeye Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course. He then reported to VAW-120 as a staff WTI, Tactics Phase Head, and finally, Assistant Training Officer. He additionally acted as a NATOPS instructor in the E-2C and E-2D from July 2018 to February 2021. During this tour, he served on the Hawkeye Tactical Analysis Team and assisted CAEWWS in tactics development at the Virtual Warfare Center in St. Louis, MO. Following his instructor tour, he reported as the Training Officer for VAW-115 at NBVC, Pt. Mugu in February of 2021, joining them on their WESTPAC Deployment and participating in Joint Exercise Northern Edge.
He was selected as a Navy Fleet Scholar and attended the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, graduating with a master's degree in International Public Policy. Following Graduation, he reported to his current role as a Department Head in VAW-123.
Sawyer has accumulated more than 1,200 flight hours in five different aircraft platforms. In 2012 he received the Admiral Robert B. Carney Award for academic excellence at the Naval Academy and in 2020 he received the Lieutenant Cameron Hall Leadership Award for transformational leadership at VAW-120. His personal awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (two awards), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards), Armed Forces Service Medal, and various unit and service awards.
Charles P Jordan
Aviator, United States Marine Corps
Charles is currently serving as an active duty United States Marine Aviator. He commissioned from the United States Naval Academy in 2015 and earned his "wings of gold" in 2017.
As an Naval Aviator, he has deployed to Kuwait in support of operations in Iraq and Syria as well as Djibouti, Africa.
Charles is a passionate leader with hopes of continuing servant leadership outside of the uniformed service.
Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
Seth Wyngowski is a career Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, assuming duties as the political-military affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia in July 2023. Seth is also Director of Policy for glifaa, an organization for LGBTQIA+ employees, family members, and allies in the U.S. foreign affairs agencies with more than 1,200 members worldwide. He previously served as political officer in Seoul, Republic of Korea, and as consular officer in Lima, Peru.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Seth was part of the team that worked to reestablish U.S.-Cuba ties from 2014-17. During this time, he coordinated with the Commerce and Treasury Departments on updates to U.S. sanctions regulations, and supported bilateral talks on civil aviation, environmental protection, and health and science cooperation. He also completed shorter stints as desk officer for Sri Lanka and Maldives, and at the U.S. missions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Santiago, Chile.
Seth has B.A. degrees from American University in Washington, D.C., and completed undergraduate coursework at the Catholic universities in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. He also holds a master’s degree in Latin American studies from Georgetown University.
Seth has received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award twice, as well as the Sinclaire Award for excellence in language study. He is from New York’s capital region and speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Estonian.
Andrea Gillespie (she/her) is the Senior International Policy Advocate with the Human Rights Campaign.
In her position, Gillespie focuses on building a U.S. foreign policy that is inclusive of LGBTQ+ rights. She routinely interfaces with Congress, the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of Treasury, and other foreign assistance agencies to highlight the needs of LGBTQ+ communities around the world.
Prior to joining HRC, Gillespie was the Sexual Health and Rights Policy Advisor with American Jewish World Service and served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Turkey. Gillespie earned both her bachelor's degree and Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan.
Mr. Carson T. Checketts, J.D.
Division Head & Senior Strategist - Office of the Chief of Staff, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security
Mr. Carson T. Checketts attended the University of Utah, where he participated in Marine Corps ROTC, and graduated with two Bachelors of Arts degrees; a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy, and a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science. Carson was active in Greek life as a member of Alpha-Tau-Omega, America’s leadership fraternity. Upon graduation in 2004, Mr. Checketts earned a Dean’s scholarship to attend Roger Williams Law School, in Bristol, Rhode Island.
After a study abroad program with Duke Law, in 2005, Mr. Checketts was selected for an Office of the Judge Advocate General, internship at the Pentagon for the summer of 2006. He was ultimately selected to become a Navy JAG and commissioned in Nov. of 2006 in the Navy Reserves; receiving an Honorable Discharge in May of 2015. Carson earned his Naval War College Masters degree in National Security and Strategic Studies in 2017. In July of 2019, Mr. Checketts earned a Certificate from MIT in Artificial Intelligence.
After working on a National Presidential Campaign in 2008, Carson attended the Institute of World Politics, where he focused his graduate studies on information warfare. Carson remains an active alumni and volunteer for the Institute.Mr. Checketts also spent a year serving at a National Security consulting firm in 2009, Mr. Checketts was recruited by ODNI in the Summer of 2009.
Mr. Checketts began his federal service in July of 2010, and is currently working for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security. Carson has received four National-Level Intelligence Community Awards, and is one of the founding members of DoD-Pride. He is also the OUSD(I&S) representative to Intelligence Community Pride.
Managing Consultant, Guidehouse Federal (former CIA careerist)
Todd is a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency where he served for twenty-six years covering analysis and operations in Europe, South Asia, Counterterrorism, and leading large strategic human capital programs.
He served twice in Europe. He now supports federal clients with as a managing consultant for strategy and management with Guidehouse Federal Inc.
He is a graduate of George Washington University (MA 95) and American University (BA 92). He is originally from Aurora, Illinois.
Homeland Intelligence Liaison and Briefer to the National Security Council
Jesús Montes (he/him/él) is the inaugural Homeland Intelligence Liaison and Briefer to the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House. In this role, he delivers the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) latest intelligence insights to senior NSC officials on issues spanning from cybersecurity and transnational crime to counter-terrorism and irregular migration.
Prior to this role, Jesús served as a career analyst within the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) where he produced analytic papers on Latin American and Caribbean security, political, and migration issues. He has traveled to Mexico and Guatemala in service of the DHS mission, and has a broad network across the US intelligence and policy communities.
He is also the founding member, former co-chair, and current Recruitment Chair for DHS I&A’s LGBTQIA+ employee association, PRISM. He has received multiple recognitions for his work, including the 2023 Secretary’s Award for Team Excellence, 2022 Secretary’s Meritorious Service Silver Medal Award, the National Military Intelligence Foundation’s LTG Patrick M. Hughes Award for Exceptional Homeland Intelligence, and a National Intelligence Council – Western Hemisphere Achievement Award.
Prior to his career at DHS, Jesús interned for the U.S. Department of State, U.S. House of Representatives, and a public affairs firm in Washington, DC. He received his B.A. in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.
He is a proud gay, person of color, a first-generation college student, and a first-generation American. He is a native from Chicago, Illinois and Guadalajara, México.
Bojan Francuz is a Program Officer at the NYU’s Center on International Cooperation, where he serves as the Lead for Peace in Our Cities, a global network of mayors and community-based organizations working to reduce urban violence.
Previously, Bojan served in various policy positions advising governments at the United Nations on political, security and disarmament issues. He co-founded CityInclusive, a social-impact organization leveraging ‘Smart City’ technology to bring greater inclusion in cities, and served as a Futurist-in-Residence at the Institute for Urban Futures at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada.
Bojan is a graduate of NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, Carnegie Ethics Fellows, and Humanity in Action Senior Fellow. Twitter: @francuzb, personal website: www.bojanfrancuz.com.
Tim Rivera is senior advisor for innovation and strategy at World Learning where he leads the coordination of organizational strategy and the development, incubation, and implementation of innovative programming. His current work is largely focused on educational programs and opportunities in support of refugees and other displaced persons.
He previously served as interim diversity, equity, and inclusion advisor to the CEO. Before joining World Learning, he worked at the European Union's Delegation to the United States, overseeing a portfolio of public-facing initiatives spanning the transatlantic agenda, including trade, security, climate change, the digital economy, gender equality, and educational exchange. Previously, at the British Council, he contributed to programs on religion and international affairs, intercultural dialogue, and common European cultural relations initiatives.
In addition to his work at World Learning, Tim is concurrently an affiliate of the Transatlantic Policy Center at American University, a security fellow at the Truman National Security Project, and a member of the Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen Initiative. He received his master's degree in international relations from King's College London and a bachelor's degree in political science from Yale University.
J. Luis Rodriguez
J. Luis Rodriguez is an incoming Assistant Professor of International Security and Law at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.
He’s an Affiliate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC, where he is currently finishing a Postdoctoral Fellowship). He studies how the Global South navigates inequalities and asymmetries in international orders and attempts to level the playing field in global governance.Luis focuses on the positions and actions of developing countries in nuclear, humanitarian, and cyber governance negotiations.
He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University.
Willow G. Woycke
Principal CyberSecurity Engineer
Willow has been what is now called a CyberSecurity Engineer for 35 years. She has worked in the spaces of trusted operating system development, network security, firewalls, identity and access management, and cross domain solutions while dabbling in many areas over the years.
Seven years ago she and her wife discussed it and decided to see if transition was the right option for her. She transitioned in place at her employer and met some expected and unexpected issues, in general it has been a good experience.
Willow helped found her Pride Inclusion and Diversity council, which has transitioned to a Business Resource Group.
She works with a few non-profits working to support trans youth and their parents.
John Paul Tarangelo
G2 Global Solutions
John Paul “JP” Tarangelo is a Program Manager & Senior Analyst at G2 Global Solutions. Through G2 Global Solutions, he has worked as an onsite federal contractor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) since 2017.
At ASPR, he supports the Strategy Division’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Branch. His expertise is tackling complex issues at the nexus of science and national security. JP works to develop policies and strategies to combat CBRN threats—with a focus on biodefense, biosecurity, and biological weapons nonproliferation—to advance national health security and protect the United States from biological threats.
Prior to joining G2 Global Solutions, JP completed internship rotations at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Health and Biodefense and HHS’s Office of Global Affairs while pursuing his master’s degree full-time. At the State Department, his work focused on implementation of the Global Health Security Agenda and at HHS he engaged with domestic and international partners to promote pandemic influenza preparedness. During his master’s program, JP’s research centered on defining best practices across the human, animal, and environmental sectors in the event of a deliberate biological incident and identifying roles of international stakeholders.
JP is a doctoral student in the Health Security Track of the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He holds an M.S. in Public Health Microbiology and Emerging Infectious Diseases from George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and a B.S. from the University of Miami.
Justin Ángel Knighten
Justin Ángel Knighten is a crisis communications expert, political strategist, storyteller and advocate for equity, human rights and solutions to address the climate crisis. With two decades experience working on complex policy issues, Justin tackles today’s biggest challenges and national security threats through building cross-sector partnerships, leading teams, and advancing community engagement strategies that lift up and invest in underserved communities.
As a senior official in Biden-Harris Administration, Justin is on the leadership team at FEMA as Director of the Office of External Affairs which includes Congressional Affairs, Public Affairs and Communications, Intergovernmental Affairs, Private Sector Affairs, Tribal Affairs, Disaster Response Communications, and the Nation’s Ready Campaign.
Recently, Justin became a Truman Project National Security Fellow.
Previously, Justin held several senior positions in the Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom, as well as global media and public affairs director of the Harvey Milk Foundation. He supported Harvey’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and political campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, to launch the foundation.
Merrick Garb is the Branch Chief for Commercial, Civil, and Interagency Partnerships in the Global Partnerships Directorate, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Strategy, Plans, Requirements, and Analysis, Headquarters U.S. Space Force. He coordinates the Space Force’s partnerships with NASA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Intelligence Community.
He previously served as an International Armaments Cooperation Specialist in the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs. In this position, he developed and negotiated international agreements that permitted collaborative research projects in order to develop next-generation technologies. Merrick was the Country Desk Officer for India, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. Merrick helped to grow the Air Force’s research and development portfolio with India’s Defense Research and Development Organisation to a record six projects worth $44 million. He supported the U.S-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) Air Systems Joint Working Group through coordination of projects that develop operational capabilities for mutual benefit, including the Air-Launched UAV Co-Development Project Agreement. This landmark defense agreement was touted in the Joint Statement released by the White House and Prime Minister Modi in September 2021. Merrick also contributed to the start of military Space Cooperation with India.
Earlier in his career, Merrick served as the Assistant Country Director for Japan, Korea, and Taiwan in the Pacific Division, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs. He was responsible for monitoring and staffing numerous Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases, totaling several billion dollars to benefit both Northeast Asia strategic partners and U.S. national security. Merrick also prepared General Officers to co-chair annual Security Assistance Management Reviews (SAMR). Additionally, he coordinated outreach with and provided input to the Office of the Secretary of Defense in order to advance the U.S. Air Force-Taiwan Air Force partnership.
Merrick’s work experience includes providing communications expertise and policy research for elected and military officials in all levels of government: local, state, and federal.
He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied cybersecurity, South Asia, and U.S. national security. EDUCATION: 2009 - Bachelor of Arts in Government, University of Texas at Austin 2013 - Master of Arts in Global Security Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington D.C.
Foreign Affairs Specialist, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Kyle Pilutti is currently a Regional Coordinator for the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in the Department of Energy.She has worked in the field on nuclear nonproliferation at the NNSA for the last 5 years.
Before her current position in the office of the Deputy Administrator, Kyle worked in the office of International Nuclear Safeguards as a portfolio manager for Africa and the Middle East.
Prior to working at NNSA, Kyle got her Master's in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Outside of work, Kyle and her wife enjoy hanging out with their cats Harper and Cooper, and on weekends going on hikes with their friends dog Bernard.
Kevin Heaney (he/him) recently joined the Office of the Chief Information Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). He served in the Under Secretary/Administrator's Office of Policy and Strategic Planning and the Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation through NNSA's National Graduate Fellowship Program.
Kevin has consulted on policy and conducted research for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the U.S. Army.
He previously served 3.5 years with the State of New Jersey's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
Kevin has a BS from St. John's University in New York City, and a Master of Public of Policy from the University of Virginia.
Key Populations Senior Technical Advisor, USAID Office of HIV/AIDS (Credence Management Solutions)
Ryan is a global health and sustainable development expert with fifteen years of experience, backed by a Ph.D. in public policy and social change. His core expertise in strategy planning, global health and development implementation and monitoring, health systems innovation, development policy analysis, change management, and strategic partnerships.
Presidential Management Fellow, U.S. Department of State
Jess is a current Presidential Management Fellow and works at the Department of State as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons.Previously, they served as a Political Officer at U.S. Embassy Suva and worked as a congressional and economic officer for the Office of Taiwan Coordination.
Before joining the State Department, Jess served in the Marine Corps as a combat photographer, providing support to the Marine Corps' Female Engagement Team (FET) program in Afghanistan. They also trained embedded partnership teams with the Afghan National Army during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011.
Following their military service, Jess pursued firefighting, starting as a structural firefighter in North Carolina before transitioning to wildland firefighting in Arizona and California. Their educational background includes a Master of Arts in International Relations from American University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Religious Studies, and East Asian Studies, with a focus on Mandarin Language, from the University of Arizona.
In their free time, Jess enjoys engaging in blacksmithing, exploring the underwater world through scuba diving, and embarking on cross-country horseback camping trips with their dogs.
Senior Multilateral Country Support Advisor, USAID
Ashley Gibbs is currently the Senior Multilateral Country Support Advisor in USAID’s Bureau of Global Health, Office of HIV/AIDS. In this role she supports USAID Missions and Washington to strengthen collaboration with the U.S. Government’s key multilateral partners and to build new partnerships with regional and bilateral partners.
She previously was a Senior Technical Advisor at Palladium, providing technical leadership and management across a portfolio of HIV, COVID-19 and pandemic preparedness and response, and broader health and human rights issues.
Throughout her career she has had a focus on gender equality and diversity, and advancing human rights of LGBTIQ people across the globe.
Ashley received her Masters of International Affairs from The George Washington University, and her BA from Brandeis University.
Military Advisor, Air National Guard
Colonel Mark Robert Wernersbach is currently serving as the Air National Guard Advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Air Force for Reserve Affairs and Airman and Guardian Readiness, the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia. In this position, he serves as the principal advisor on policy for mobilization, organization, training and equipping and peacetime support activities for more than 108,000 Air National Guard members and civilians in more than 1,800 units across 266 locations throughout the U.S., the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
Colonel Wernersbach entered the Air Force after graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in May 1998. He attended Joint Undergraduate Navigator Training at Randolph Air Force Base earning his Navigator wings in October 2000, followed by an operational assignment at Dyess Air Force Base where he participated in numerous overseas deployments in support of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM.
He joined the 102nd Rescue Squadron, Westhampton Beach, New York in 2006 and participated in multiple deployments supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. On his most recent deployment supporting Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, Colonel Wernersbach served as the 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron Commander. Following that he commanded the 106th Operations Support Squadron.
Prior to his current position, the Colonel was the Executive Officer to the Executive Director, Air National Guard, Office of the Director, Pentagon, Washington DC.
Lt Col Steven Michael Grow
Lt Colonel, United States Air Force
Lt Col Steven M. Grow is currently assigned to the Pentagon where he leads the Department of the Air Force Contracting Policy Branch. His team is responsible for writing effective contracting policy and advising the DAF enterprise of 8,000 contracting personnel on the successful execution of the DAF mission with taxpayers’ dollars.
Prior to this assignment, he was the Commander of the 19th Contracting Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. He led the squadron in the acquisition of construction projects, services, and supplies in support of flying operations at Little Rock AFB, the Air Force’s largest C-130 base, obligating approximately $42M annually. The unit’s members won 8 Air Mobility Command Awards and 4 Air Force-level awards in his final year of command.
Lt Col Grow graduated from Michigan State University with bachelor’s degrees in both History and Accounting. He has served in a variety of leadership roles, including as the Contracting Commander at Lajes AB Portugal and Director of Business Operations at Tinker AFB. Lt Col Grow has gained broad experience across acquisition, in the operational, systems, contingency, DCMA, overseas, and headquarters Air Force levels.
He was deployed to FOB Shank, Afghanistan, with the Army’s 4th Brigade/10th Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011.
Iván Thirion is a Mexican-American foreign policy analyst and civil-society leader. He is a Program Analyst at the Open Society Foundations. At OSF, Iván is part of the U.S. Foreign Policy Advocacy Team. He coordinates U.S.-based foreign policy advocacy campaigns and conducts direct advocacy to advance human rights-framed policies in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Besides that, he supports initiatives and existing programs that promote the inclusion and professional development of historically-excluded communities in the U.S. national security workforce. Between 2019 - 2022, Iván coordinated the OSF's Foreign Policy Constituency Building grant-making project, which advanced the creation and development of various prominent foreign policy lobbying groups and their demand for more humane U.S. foreign policies.
Prior to that, he worked in the international development field as an Operations Officer for the Bhutan Foundation. He also interned in the United States Senate at Senator Mark Warner’s Office, where he worked primarily on foreign policy and immigration issues and assisted the Senator with his legislative, outreach and constituent casework priorities. Additionally, he was a Field Organizing Fellow at Representative Jennifer Wexton’s Campaign for Congress through the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and at the Democratic Party of Virginia, where he supported the campaigns of various candidates in the 2017 election. Iván is pursuing a M.A. in Security Studies at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.
He is participating in the Bryce Harlow Foundation's Fellowship Program, a competitive mentorship program for professionals working in the field of professional advocacy through government relations and lobbying. Iván graduated from Radford University as a distinguished Scholar-Citizen Fellow with a B.A. in Political Science, where he currently serves as an Advisory Board Member in the College of Humanities & Behavioral Sciences. Iván has attended executive certificate courses taught by The Management Center and the Brookings Institution. He has experience studying abroad in Mexico, Germany, and France. He is fluent in Spanish and German, and conversational in Portuguese.
CEO & Cofounder at ReflexAI
Sam Dorison is a national expert in artificial intelligence strategy and product deployment. He is the Cofounder and CEO at ReflexAI, a technology company that brings AI-powered tools to emergency dispatch, crisis response, and healthcare organizations.
In 2023, ReflexAI was recognized as a winner of Mission Daybreak, the Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention competition, for tools to more rapidly and effectively train responders on the Veterans Crisis Line. ReflexAI is also developing, with support from Google, a tool to equip veterans to support each other with mental health challenges.
Before launching ReflexAI, Sam served as Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at The Trevor Project, where his team’s work was recognized on TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2021. Sam previously worked at McKinsey & Company in Washington, DC, and at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University. He also holds an LLM from Cambridge University and an MSc in Security Studies from University College London, both as a Marshall Scholar.
He lives in New York City with his husband.
Senior Federal Affairs Manager, The Trevor Project
Saurav is a senior manager in the Advocacy and Government Affairs team at The Trevor Project where he leads a combined U.S. federal and global/Latin America portfolio. Prior to this, he served on the International Strategy team at Trevor.
He has 12+ years of experience in policy advocacy, communications, writing/editing, and project management in LGBTQ human rights and public health.
Previously, Saurav worked at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. and at the United Nations Asia regional hub in Bangkok, Thailand.
He earned a masters degree in law and diplomacy - with concentrations in International Negotiations & Conflict Resolution and International Security Studies - from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.
Wyatt Yankus is a Director at Standard Chartered Bank, a UK-headquartered bank that operates primarily in emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. In this D.C.-based role, he is responsible for coordinating the identification, analysis and tracking of emerging geopolitical issues in the bank’s operating footprint and supports international policy engagement on issues such as sustainable development financing.
Prior to joining Standard Chartered, he worked for three years as a consultant at the corporate advisory firm Brunswick Group, where he helped multinational corporations understand, respond to, and communicate about geopolitical and cybersecurity issues. At both firms, he has served as a leading member of LGBTQ+ employee resource groups, helping to coordinate Pride observances and DEI initiatives.
From 2009-2019, he served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy. He deployed twice to the Middle East in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of an F/A-18 fighter squadron embarked on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. From 2014-2016, he served at the White House as a Military Social Aide to President Obama. In his final assignment, he was stationed in the United Kingdom where he led a team responsible for the tracking of adversary naval activity in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility.
Wyatt holds a B.A. from Princeton University, a M.A. in Security Studies from Georgetown University, and an M.B.A. from the University of Cambridge.
2023 New Voices List
Charles Dunst is deputy director of Research & Analytics at The Asia Group and an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is the author of Defeating the Dictators: How Democracy Can Prevail in the Age of the Strongman (Hodder & Stoughton, February 2023).
He has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Telegraph, and Foreign Policy, among other outlets. An erstwhile foreign correspondent, he has reported from Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, and Romania.
He holds an M.Sc. with Distinction in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and a B.A. with honors in World Politics from Hamilton College, for which he also studied at Hungary's Corvinus University of Budapest.
Sarah is a Privacy Assistant and Paralegal Specialist at the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of the Chief Privacy Officer where she works at the intersection of technology, consumer protection, and competition policy.
She’s passionate about the intersection of intimate privacy rights and gender, sexuality, and race. She also serves as an editor for the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy’s Rising Experts program. She previously worked as an Investigator at a due diligence firm in Washington, DC.
Sarah graduated with a BA in International Studies from American University in 2019 and focused her studies in national security and foreign policy, European affairs, and criminal justice. Outside of work, she enjoys reading, writing, kayaking, singing in DMV choirs, and traveling.
Management and Program Analyst, National Security Branch Global Engagement Lead, Federal Bureau of Investigation
From Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Ron has combined his passion for national security with equitable policies throughout his entire career.
Currently, he serves in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) National Security Branch and as the Co-Chair of FBI Pride, the FBI's LGBTQ+ employee resource group. Through this position, he has lead trainings on how the FBI can best support and protect the LGBTQ+ community.
Previously, he served as a Rosenthal Fellow in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy and as a contractor for the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
He received his Master of International Public Affairs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs and is currently studying at the National Intelligence University for his Master of Strategic Intelligence.
Owen Daniel Sanchez
EEO Investigator NYC Housing Preservation and Development
Owen was born in Dominican Republic and moved to the northern side of Belgium at approximately 3 years old. He attended elementary school and Belgian High School in Ghent. At the age of 15, Owen and his mother moved to New York City. At that time, he was not sure what he wanted to pursue academically nor professionally, since he was placed in a trade school to pursue bakery due to his poor performance in Belgian elementary school.
When he was registering for high school in New York City, Owen was suggested to pursue business. Owen first became exposed to the American high school system as a sophomore at Richmond Hill High School. For him, high school in New York City was a culture shock, since it did not resemble high school in American TV shows. By junior year, Owen was able to adapt to the culture, make friends, and learn NYC slang.
By the time he attended Queensborough Community College to pursue business administration, Owen was openly out as a gay male. After obtaining his associate degree, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications with a minor in French at Baruch College. During his undergraduate studies, Owen studied abroad in Paris during the fall of 2017 and was able to do an intensive language program and internship in Shanghai during the summer of 2018. At that time, Owen was interested in a career where he could make use of his language skills.
After obtaining his bachelors, Owen did an internship with the United Nations’ Department for General Assembly and Conference Management. He then obtained an internship with the Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the United Nations, where he attended UN meetings pertaining to economic, financial, and legal issues. During his time at the UN, Owen became exposed to the world of international affairs, which fascinated him. He was also able to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization around the time of his UN-related internships. He saw how different delegates from different member states defended their country’s position within UN resolutions, which inspired him to one day pursue a career in foreign affairs as an American citizen.
After spending approximately 8 months in Belgium during covid, Owen returned to New York to become a bilingual case planner at Mercy First, where he used his Spanish speaking skills to help families who had been involved in Child Protective Services. He then decided he wanted to pursue graduate studies in interest of landing a federal career.
Owen is currently pursuing a Master of International Affairs with a concentration in Global Security at Baruch College. During his graduate studies, Owen became an EEO Investigator at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development where he developed valuable skills pertaining to workplace discrimination. During the summer of 2023 Owen will intern with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. After his internship at the State Department, Owen will go to Taiwan to study Mandarin on a Boren Fellowship for approximately 8 months.
Owen currently speaks Dutch, French, and Spanish at a limited-professional capacity level. He would like to further improve his languages while learning and mastering Mandarin. As an Afro-Latino gay male, he looks forward for the opportunity to be involved with ONS as well as the Black China Caucus to encourage other minorities to pursue their academic and professional endeavors to push toward the diversification of the entire U.S. workforce on all levels, in all sectors.
DEI Alumni Collaborator at UMD iSchool & DEI Coordinator of DMV Queers
Naveena is DEI Coordinator of a local DMV organization called DMV Queers as well as DEI Alumni Collaborator for the University of Maryland iSchool.
Right now as a recent graduate during an economic recession, they have worked as a business analyst, a cupcake shop worker, and a server.
Their personal and volunteer work shines through and through community service they are able to help people understand technical terms and come to solutions to better protect their data and internet presence.
Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
Hunter Zhao is a political-track Foreign Service Officer currently serving at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Prior to joining the State Department, he was a senior graduate fellow in policy and advocacy at the Truman National Security Project. He provided additional support at Truman’s Afghanistan Operations Center. During 2019, Hunter served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysian Borneo.
His previous work experiences include USAID, IOM Iraq, Human Rights Watch, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and the High Court of Uganda. He also is a recipient of the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellowship which allowed him to serve in U.S. Embassy Manila where he focused on political-military affairs, particularly the presence of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea.
Hunter holds an M.A. in Human Rights Studies and a graduate certificate in African Studies from Columbia University. He is an alumnus of the International Fellows Program at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. He earned his B.A. in History and Sociology from the University of Michigan, where he also served as the president of First-Generation College Students at Michigan. He speaks Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish.
Busboy, Dupont Italian Kitchen
William grew up in an on and off again expat family, was motivated to study national security in part due to the War on Terror and my stepmother's experience with the 2003 Riyadh bombings.
William moved to DC looking for work on the Hill or in a think tank.
Jake Sepich is an Associate at the Lafayette Group.
Originally from Chicago, they recently completed their master's at American University in International Relations with a concentration in cybersecurity.
They have worked on a variety of political campaigns, in congressional offices, and as a program manager for a grant before this position.
Program Manager, Wildfire and Disaster Management, Europe & Eurasia - Management and Engineering Technologies International (METI - on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service, International Programs)
Seth is a well-rounded domestic and international development professional with extensive knowledge in capacity building, emergency management, strategic planning and stakeholder engagement and mobilization.
Having developed human-centric projects in Ghana and India, Seth is inspired by local actors creating sustainable change in their communities. This drives them to support complex development projects from inception to completion in many of the world’s most challenging contexts.
This has led to the implementation of work on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service International Programs, US EUCOM, USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, US Department of State, UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO, UNICEF, UN Free & Equal (UNFE), WHO and with various national line Ministries.
China Policy Advisor (McCain Fellow), OSD(P), DoD
Will Cullen is a McCain Fellow at DoD (OSD Policy, DASD China) passionate about climate change, international politics, and sustainable development in the Indo-Pacific region. He hopes to dedicate his career to assisting the US government address the two major global security challenges of global climate change and the PRC's economic, technological, and military modernization.
Previously, he worked as a fellow at the National Committee on US-China Relations and World Resources Institute, as well as a research intern at the U.S. Department of State, US Embassy New Delhi and U.S. Senate. Will has unique linguistic, professional, and academic experience in the Indo-Pacific region: he was a Critical Language Scholar (Hindi, 2019) in India, and lived in Seoul and Taipei during his Schwarzman Scholarship year. He has proficiency in Mandarin and Hindi languages.
Will received a master’s degree in Global Affairs as a Schwarzman Scholar and graduated cum laude with honors from Claremont McKenna College with a bachelor's degree in Environment, Economics, and Politics and a sequence in Human Rights studies.
Gender Data Assessor at Open Data Watch; Events Manager at Glifaa
As a recent graduate student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, my master's studies centered on LGBTQIA+ inclusion in foreign and development policy. As a gender and social inclusion consultant I currently work with Open Data Watch to support the publication of their inaugural Gender Data Monitor and manage the events calendar for Glifaa, the Department of State’s LGBTQIA+ employee affinity and resource group. While a graduate student, I worked with Freedom House to evaluate and create trauma-sensitive programming for LGBTQIA+ Ukrainians effected by the war.
Previous experience includes working on the Democratic staff of the U.S. House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee, participating in a DOS-administered fellowship program, the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), and working with the Czech delegation of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.
Previously, my bachelor’s and master’s degrees focused on International Affairs; with honors certificates in Global Inequality & Development + Global & Comparative Governance from American University; and Women, Peace, and Security + Diplomatic Studies from Georgetown University. I use my experiences in the public sector to enhance policies that promote equity, prevent inequality, and advocate for more inclusive practice.
At the center of my work is the desire to collaborate with and create communities of practice for promoting the human rights and political participation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT+), and other Gender and Sexual Minorities.
Affiliations: Glifaa, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, Women's Foreign Policy Network, Society for International Development