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veteran hero awards

The Veteran Hero Awards honor those in our community who have served our country in the military and/or assist our Veterans.

Categories for caregivers, spouses, social workers, community supporters, leaders who are committed to serving our Veterans, and Veterans themselves.

The 2020 Veteran Hero Awards will be held at the Nixon Library on May, 2020. All proceeds will benefit, 2 nonprofit Veteran service organizations – Patriots and Paws and Support The Enlisted Project.

2019 Nominees

All Award Categories
CSUN Veterans Alumni Association

Organization CSUN Veteran Alumni Association (VAA)

Position CSUN Veteran Alumni Association (VAA)


The CSUN Veterans Alumni Association (VAA) is a first of its kind at CSUN. It was formed by a group of likeminded and highly motivated Veterans and allies with the strong vision and dedication to helping veterans in their post graduate efforts. The goals and objectives of the CSUN VAA are to create real world connections and bridge networking opportunities between Veterans, their surrounding communities, and the University. To create opportunities for alumni to become more connected to and interactive with the university and Veteran Alumni constituency; Honor and showcase the alumni and to strengthen and improve the VAA chapter, its alumni, faculty and students. The VAA also aims to provide additional financial and personal resources to promote the welfare and intellectual progress of current and former Veteran students at Cal State Northridge and continue their journey towards success. For many veterans who joined the military right after high school, after the military they come straight to college on the G.I. Bill. Now post-graduation, for many of them, this is their first real encounter with the civilian professional world and they're going into it alone. This organization is beneficial in it that it's comprised of Veterans and allies who have fought through their own struggles and have come out on the other side stronger and wiser for it. Those experiences will help the next class of Veterans who graduate each year and look to join a growing network of professionals with similar interests, mainly success and rising to greatness.
Rebecca Aguilera-Gardiner

Organization Veterans In Business

Position Executive Director


Rebecca is the co-founder of Veterans In Business (VIB) Network, a nonprofit 501(c)3 that advocates for all Veteran businesses nationwide. The VIB Network helps build connections between Veteran businesses, Corporations, Government Agencies and Prime Contractors looking to create business opportunities. Rebecca is proud to be one of the catalysts for the VIB Network and excited to help bring a streamlined and professional approach to connecting to the Veteran business community. The Veterans In Business (VIB) Network is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that advocates for all Veteran Businesses including SDVOSBs and DVBEs. They help build connections between Veteran Businesses, Corporations, Government Agencies and Prime Contractors looking to create business opportunities together. They provide FREE business resources, educational seminars, outreach opportunities, and a Veteran 2 Veteran Mentor/Protege Program. Their National Conference is widely considered one of the best Veteran business networking events in the country. Rebecca is the driving force behind VIB and we are grateful for her commitment to improving veterans business lives.
Maureen Ahrens

Organization Bob Hope USO

Position Center Manager


Maureen is truly a gem! The Bob Hope USO is one of the best kept secrets in Orange County that really needs to be known for the great work they do! Maureen runs the Center and is always available with resources and a smile to help our MIlitary, Veterans and Families in Orange County. For people who travel in and out of the Orange County Airport, it's important for the community-at-large to know about the USO as a source of support and assistance, and for those that are military connected, Many of us are not aware of how Maureen and her group can assist a weary Veteran with anything from providing a place to take a much-needed rest in between flights, see a friendly face, get their phone charged, grab a snack, or obtain local resources from other Veteran Serving Agencies. Maureen is a valued collaborator, and looks for opportunities to partner with other organizations to better serve our Veteran population. As the USO Center Director, she continues to excel in helping to make our Veterans transition to or from Orange County as effortless as possible! She is truly a Hero to all those whose lives she touches!
Ernest Alonso


Position Founder & Managing Director


Ernest is a two-time US ARMY Veteran. He earned two Honorable Discharges. One as an Enlisted Soldier and a second as an Officer. Ernest takes great pride in always having fellow US Military Veterans stand up to be recognized at every single Real Estate Symposium, Forum, Training Workshop and Mixer he Hosts and Sponsors. Ernest is currently the Vice President of the OC USVBA serving under Bill Cunningham (President). When time permits, he enjoys attending networking events hosted by Veterans Business Network and USC Alumni Veterans Group.
Melanie Alverez

Organization Goodwill Socal

Position Veterans program Manager


Melanie completely revitalized the veteran program for goodwilll Socal. She spends evening and weekends insuring veterans are getting the support they need. She advocates for funding for veterans families which is rare in our community. She has helped numerous families to be happier and in a better place.
Joel Anderson

Organization Former State Senator

Position Senator


Senator Joel Anderson has done. Ore for veterans in his time as a state senator in CA then any other senator. He does anything he can to support and assist them!
Johnny Aragon

Organization Team Red, White & Blue- Los Angeles

Position Special Projects Coordinator


Johnny is a 5-year Navy veteran who is currently a Special Projects Project Coordinator with Team Red, White & Blue- Los Angeles. Team RWB looks to enrich the lives of America's veterans through social and physical activities. Prior to being a volunteer leader with Team RWB LA, Johnny began helping student veterans while pursuing his undergraduate degree in Computer Information Systems at California State University Los Angeles. He was a Secretary for the Cal State LA Student Veteran Organization in 2014 and a Treasurer for the Cal State LA SALUTE Veteran Nationals Honor Society in 2015. He would also volunteer with The Mission Continues during his undergraduate studies by participating in numerous service projects, which eventually lead him to Team RWB. He began leading hikes for Team RWB LA prior to joining their leadership team. He was then given a role of Veteran Engagement Coordinator, which he held from April 2017-June 2018. Johnny would attend outreach events and continue leading hikes for the chapter's members. He was later promoted to Deputy Chapter Captain from June 2018 to July 2019. Johnny's duties included assisting the Chapter Captain with scheduling monthly meetings, working on the newsletter, creating events on Salesforce and sharing events through social media, all while balancing grad school and a full-time job. As a current Special Projects Coordinator, Johnny assists the team by leading events and assisting other leaders. Johnny is currently enrolled at the University of Southern California, pursuing an MBA in the MBA PM program. He is also currently working as an Office Coordinator for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
Antoinette Balta

Organization Veterans Legal Institute

Position Executive Director and Co-Founder


Antoinette Balta, Esq., LLM is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Veterans Legal Institute® where she oversees and has responsibility for business development, outreach, public relations, marketing, and strategic planning. She comes to VLI with a long-held passion to serve homeless and at-risk veterans and service members and has dedicated her career to that end. Noticing an influx of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking shelter at a local National Guard armory, Ms. Balta discovered that many issues that contributed to these veterans’ chronic homelessness were legal in nature and required the assistance of an attorney. So moved by the fact that the men and women who had served the country abroad were now struggling, she committed herself to the cause of removing “chronic” from “homelessness” and empowering veterans into self-sufficiency. This led her to be instrumental in the co-development of a veteran based project at a local legal aid, with over 700 veterans receiving legal assistance during her three year tenure. Ms. Balta is a reserve JAG Officer with the California State Military Reserve, assigned to Legal Support Command where she holds the rank of Major. She is accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs and regularly lectures on legal topics affecting veterans, where she is known for providing innovative solutions aimed at veteran empowerment and self-sufficiency. In the past, Ms. Balta was a law lecturer at UCI School of Law for its Veterans Law Clinic. Ms. Balta is a Director at Large with the Orange County Bar Association and also a Board Advisor for the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations. Ms. Balta is a member of the OC Veterans and Military Families Collaborative and for a long period of time served as its Vice Chair of its Steering Committee and Chairwoman of its Legal/Re-Entry Working Group and is the Vice Chair of the Military and Veterans Health Law Advisory Board of the American Bar Association Health Section. She is also an advisor to Integrated Recovery Foundation, an organization that serves women veterans that are survivors of military sexual trauma.
Antoinette Balta

Organization Veterans Legal Institute

Position Executive Director and Co-Founder


Veterans Legal Institute was established in August 2014 to aid veterans in veteran-specific issues and needs. VLI’s founders have deep roots in the armed forces and who understand the legal limitations clouding a veteran’s ability to adapt into society. Major Antoinette Balta identified a crucial unmet need and created VLI with aspirations to fill that void and provide a crucial service to an underserved community. As one of the very few public interest law firms in the nation, all of the management, staff, pro bono attorneys, and volunteers are veterans, military family members, or passionate veteran advocates. VLI provides pro bono legal services to homeless, disabled, low-income and at-risk veterans to eradicate barriers to housing, employment, education, and health care to foster self-sufficiency. VLI’s enduring goal is to greatly reduce veteran homelessness and suicide. To that end, since its founding and with incredible grassroots supporters, VLI has served over 6,000 veterans and restored over two million dollars in veterans benefits. Consider a particularly moving case of a Vietnam Era veteran who at the time of his service was foreign born. This US Army veteran had begun his life of service in high school serving in the ROTC and then enlisting during wartime. His dream was to serve his country with the hope of surviving the conflict and becoming a naturalized citizen. He endured a year of conflict in forward facing roles. When he it was time for him to be processed out of Vietnam, his records which would help him become a naturalized citizen did not follow him. Never losing hope that his dream of becoming a citizen could come true, this proud hero came to VLI seeking help after decades of trying to achieving naturalization on his own. VLI quickly took his case and matched him to pro bono immigration attorney Richard Wilner, a steadfast veteran advocate who has donated hundreds of hours of exceptional legal care to our local veterans. With Mr. Wilner's help, our local hero, at the 70 years young, was able to achieve his dream of citizenship - filling his heart with pride, honor, and dedication to this wonderful nation he has always called home.
Tove And Sterling Barbour

Organization Veterans Advocay Group of America

Position President and Vice President


Tova and Sterling are the most kind, loving and concerned people I know. there mission is to help as many veterans, their families and other in need in any way possible. They host the military families backpack give away for the last 11 years, the Veterans thanksgiving diner at patriotic hall last 3 years, directly support the shining star awards that recognize women in the community that support women veterans. Not to mention creating a training program for those to get certified in pest control with direct employment. They are truly the icons in the veteran community
Michael Barrett

Organization Working Wardrobes VetNet

Position Director, VetNet


As a combat-wounded veteran of the United States Marine Corps with over 20 years of service, I bring a mix of leadership and common sense to the table. .I am dedicated to a path of giving back and paying it forward so that others may benefit, grow and succeed. I truly believe in the progressive success of others, whether its helping Non-Profit Organizations supplement their annual fundraising platform, providing organizational performance and resilience based leadership coaching and continuing to support the men, women and families of our Military Veterans and transitioning Service Members through a variety of services and programs. Working Wardrobes is an independent nonprofit organization that strives to empower men, women, young adults, and veterans overcoming difficult challenges to confidently enter the workforce and achieve self-sufficiency. The organization provides workforce readiness services, career and job training, job placement assistance, and professional wardrobe services in an environment of dignity and respect. The VetNet Director will manage and lead a high functioning team that assists veterans and spouses experiencing career obstacles, homelessness, and military-civilian transition. The Director will ensure that the work of the VetNet program meets all grant requirements (government, corporate, and private), and that all VetNet staff conduct in-depth needs assessment to identify the specific and unique services to be provided to individual clients. Working Wardrobes VetNet staff is a premiere group of caseworkers, outreach specialists, and job developers that provide workforce readiness, career development support, and job placement services, and refers individuals to partner agencies that can assist with other barriers and needs that the veteran may be experiencing such as homelessness, behavioral health, and VA benefits information.
Bob Bennett

Organization Newport Beach Police Department

Position Sergeant


Bob started his career of service in 1989, at the age of 18. When he set out to serve his country, he joined the United States Navy and immediately began his training to become a Navy Seal. He was honorably discharged 10 years later and has had a successful career in law enforcement for the last 16 years, currently serving as a Sergeant for Newport Beach Police Department. Bob is a humble leader not only of his PD, but also of his community. He volunteers his time as a surf instructor with Operation Surf each year in Huntington Beach, and also regularly volunteers his time to his children's sports teams. His children, Will and Cali adore him, always look up to him and can always count on him to be present and showup for them,even after many sleepless nights. Not only do his own children look up to him but he is a leader and role model to all of the children they are surrounded by. Bob is always peaceful and can often be seen cracking jokes and lightning the mood on the sidelines of the ball fields. Bob is not only a great father figure, but an incredible husband to his wife Angie. He is incredibly supportive to her own career in law enforcement and when life threw this family a curve ball, Bob showed up as the pilar of his family, never allowing his faith to waiver. His continuous love and strength allowed them to fight harder together. As he continues to grow in his career in law enforcement, the community is blessed to have him serving us and protecting us. His integrity, passion and character can never be questioned as he lives his life each day humbly.


Founder and Director

Shannon Buhrmaster