SAM PRESSLER | Executive Director
Sam Pressler is the Founder and Executive Director of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP). He is a 2015 Echoing Green Global Fellow, 2016 Halcyon Fellow, and 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 awardee. He has been recognized by Americans for the Arts in their Leadership Spotlight, and was named to the HillVets 100 list as one of the 100 most influential people in the veterans space. Sam graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from the College of William & Mary in 2015, where he received degrees in Government and Finance, the Ewell Award, and a McGlennon Scholarship - as well as recognition as a TEDx Innovative Thinker. During his time at the College, he spearheaded William & Mary’s first cohesive initiative to support veterans both on- and off-campus, founding the William & Mary Center for Veterans Engagement, Student Veterans of William & Mary, and William & Mary Military & Veterans Working Group.
Ana Gonzalez | Program Coordinator
Ana Gonzalez is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago, where she earned degrees in Sociology and Latin American Studies. During her time at the University of Chicago, she developed an artist-in-residency program featuring Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, creator of the Stop Telling Women to Smile social art series. While in school, she also worked in cultural programming at the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and arts education at SkyART, a youth arts center in South Chicago.
Carlene Cross | Operations & Communications Coordinator
Carlene is the author of two award winning nonfiction books, The Undying West and Fleeing Fundamentalism. She holds a a BA in History and an MA in Communications History from the University of Washington. Carlene has been a ministerial counselor, a college counselor, and writing instructor at the University of Washington. She was the Coordinating Producer for the PBS series: Bill Nye the Science Guy. She writes for TAPS and USO’s On Patrol magazines and The Huffington Post. Her new book titled, The Hero’s Journey: A Handbook for Healing, follows her path of forgiveness and acceptance after the death of her son in Afghanistan. Carlene lives in Washington D.C. with her husband Denny.
Jim King | Community Engagement Fellow
A Fellow with The Mission Continues, Jim King retired from the U.S. Army Chaplaincy in June 2016 with numerous awards and commendations throughout his career, including the Bronze Star for Service in combat. Known for specialized skills in creative communications, Jim taught and served as the “Dean” of Officer Training at the U. S. Army Chaplain School. His education culminated with a Doctorate in Training Supervision from Erskine Seminary, for which he developed curriculum and teaching methodologies for experienced adult leaders. Jim is a stand-up comedian and proud alumni of Comedy Bootcamp.
Board of Directors
Juan Ayala | Board Member
Mr. Ayala retired as a Major General in the United States Marine Corps after 36 years of service. He comes to ASAP with a proven record of success in leading people and commanding large, complex organizations. Prior to his retirement, he commanded all 24 Marine Corps installations worldwide and was selected to lead the Department of Defense’s 2015 Warrior Games assisting the nation’s wounded, ill and injured warriors in their recuperative efforts. His service includes 4 combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to include a year as a Senior Advisor, embedded with the 1st Iraqi Army Division. Mr. Ayala received an MBA from Campbell University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas at El Paso. Mr. Ayala’s personal awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with “V” Combat Distinguishing Device, Bronze Star Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon. He received the 2007 Excellence in Military Service Award from the League of Latin American Citizens.
Todd Bowers | Board Member
Todd Bowers currently serves as the Director of UberMilitary. Before joining Uber, Bowers worked in the office of Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase & Company and as the Deputy Executive Director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Bowers served 12 years in the United State Marine Corps, deploying twice to Iraq, once to Afghanistan and South America. His military honors include the Purple Heart, Navy Commendation Medal with “V” device for Valor, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards), Presidential Unit Citation and Combat Action Ribbon (two awards). His work supporting veterans has been highlighted by the Washington Post, Men’s Health Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NPR, Bloomberg, and the Associated Press. Todd and his wife Jessica live in D.C. with their dog, Austin.
Jeff Bozman | Board Member
Jeff practices law with Covington & Burling, where he focuses on government contracts and national security. He studied law at William & Mary, clerked for Chief Judge Rebecca Beach Smith on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary. Jeff served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer from 2005 to 2009, where he deployed to Ramadi, Iraq and on board the USS Kearsarge. He is the son of a Navy physician, and the grandson of an Army engineer who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Jeff studied vocal performance while an undergrad at Princeton, and he has had the privilege of singing with the Princeton University Chamber Choir, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and the choirs of Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and St. John’s Lafayette Square.
Jim Iorio | BOARD MEMBER
Jim is the Global Head of Sales for the Markets Division of the NEX Group. Prior to joining NEX, he was a Managing Director and Global Head of Currencies and Commodities Distribution at Barclays, based in New York. At Barclays, Mr. Iorio previously led various Foreign Exchange businesses in New York and Singapore. After joining Barclays from Lehman Brothers in 2008, he managed the strategic review and integration of several Fixed Income businesses. He graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington with a degree in Accounting and began his career as a Certified Public Accountant and systems integration consultant at Price Waterhouse. He is a corporate member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an active mentor at American Corporate Partners. He lives in New York with his wife, Audrey, and their two children.
Brad Ridlehoover I Board Member
Brad practices law with McGuireWoods LLP in Richmond, Virginia where he focuses on tax controversy matters. He studied law at William & Mary and obtained his LLM in taxation from New York University. Brad is also certified public accountant in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Brad served as an adjunct professor for the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary from 2011 to 2015 teaching business law to both undergraduates and masters of accounting students. Brad has served as an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University since 2012 where he has taught tax practice and procedure and tax accounting. In addition to being a member of ASAP's Board, Brad is also on the Board of Directors of the Community Tax Law Project and iat4ss.
Joseph Bathanti is former Poet Laureate of North Carolina (2012-14). He is the author of ten books of poetry, including, Restoring Sacred Art, winner of the 2010 Roanoke Chowan Prize, awarded by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association; Concertina, winner of the 2014 Roanoke Chowan Prize; and The 13th Sunday after Pentecost, released by LSU Press in Fall 2016. His novels are: East Liberty, winner of the 2001 Carolina Novel Award; Coventry, winner of the 2006 Novello Literary Award; and The Life of the World to Come, from University of South Carolina. His book of stories, The High Heart, won the 2006 Spokane Prize. Half of What I Say Is Meaningless, winner of the Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction, is from Mercer University Press. Bathanti is Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University and serves as The Charles George VA Medical Center Writer-in-Residence in Asheville, NC.
Maurice Emerson Decaul, a former Marine, is a poet, essayist, and playwright, whose writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Sierra Magazine, Epiphany, Callaloo, Narrative and others. His poems have been translated into French and Arabic and his theatrical works, Holding it Down and Sleep Song, collaborations with composer Vijay Iyer and poet Mike Ladd, have been produced and performed at New York City’s Harlem Stage, Washington DC’s ATLAS INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL, in Paris and in Antwerp. His play Dijla Wal Furat, Between the Tigris and the Euphrates was produced in New York City by Poetic Theater Productions in the winter of 2015. Maurice graduated from Columbia University and New York University with degrees in Creative Writing, and he is currently working toward his MFA in playwriting at Brown University.
Matt Gallagher is the author of the novel Youngblood, memoir Kaboom, and coeditor of the short fiction collection Fire & Forget: Short Stories from the Long War. Reviewing for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote of Youngblood, "On one level, the novel is a parable - with overtones of Graham Greene's The Quiet American - about the United States and Iraq and the still unfurling consequences of the war ... Mr. Gallagher has a keen reportorial eye, a distinctive voice and an instinctive sympathy for the people he is writing about ... [This] is an urgent and deeply moving novel." A former U.S. Army captain, Gallagher was featured in Vanity Fair as one of the voices of a new generation of American war literature. A graduate of Wake Forest University, Matt also holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.
Emily Pease writes short fiction as well as nonfiction, including blogs and news pieces for the Huffington Post. Her short stories have appeared in Witness, The Missouri Review, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, and Crazyhorse. Her story, “Tad Lincoln’s Ladder of Dreams” won the Missouri Review Editor’s Prize in Fiction in 1999. In 2014 she won the Bevel Summers Prize in Short Fiction at Shenandoah and the Crazyshorts! Prize atCrazyhorse. In 2015, she attended the Sewanee Writers Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar, and participated in a workshop with Tim O’Brien and Christine Schutt. Emily has taught writing at William & Mary for 24 years, and has served as writer-in-residence at the Eastern Virginia Writing Project since 2007, where she teaches workshops in memoir and poetry. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College.
Sofia M. Starnes, Virginia Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2014, is the author of five poetry collections and editor of two anthologies. Her chapbook, The Soul's Landscape, was selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins as one of two co-winners of the 2001 Aldrich Poetry Prize. Her first full-length poetry book, A Commerce of Moments, won the Editor's Prize in the 2001 Transcontinental Poetry Award competition. In 2008, her collection, Corpus Homini: A Poem for Single Flesh, was awarded the Whitebird Poetry Series Prize. Sofia's poetry has appeared in over 100 journals, including War, Literature, and the Arts. Sofia has also received listings in Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, and Who's Who of American Women. She received an advanced degree in English Philology from University of Madrid, and a Doctor of Letters from Union College (Ky.).
Dan Weiss worked for over 35 years in communications, publishing and entertainment. He has produced books, magazines, television, and digital media, including “The Vampire Diaries” and “Sweet Valley High” series, which were international hits. A graduate of NYU's School of the Arts, Dan began his career making short animated films for Sesame Street, documentaries for the government, and political commercials. In the early 1970s, he transitioned into book publishing with positions at Golden Books, Scholastic, and Simon and Schuster, and, in 1980, formed Daniel Weiss Associates. In recent decades, Dan initiated and closed the transaction wherein SparkNotes.com was acquired by Barnes & Noble, Inc., was President and Publisher of Spark Publishing, and was Publisher-at-Large for St. Martin's Press. Mr. Weiss serves on the boards for Charity Navigator and the Echoing Green Foundation.
Chris Coccia is the founding instructor of Comedy Bootcamp, the lead instructor of the DC Improv's Five Minutes to Funny class, and a stand-up comic with over 25 years of professional experience. Over the course of his 5+ year tenure at the Improv, his class has become among the most popular on the East Coast, and he's taught nearly 500 aspiring comics. Professionally, Chris has been featured on Comedy Central, ABC News, the Game Show Network, and Sirius XM Radio, and he often performs as part of the Great American Comedy Festival.
JP Connolly is a USMC Veteran, stand-up comedian, and radio/TV host based in Los Angeles. He attended Harvard on a Marine Corps ROTC scholarship, then served in Desert Storm, where at one point he was ordered to write jokes for a Colonel. JP eventually made his way to Hollywood - there, he began performing at the Comedy Store, Improv, and Ice House Comedy Club. JP has appeared on Comedy Central and HBO, and hosted VH1's "Movie Obsessions" and Sirius XM's "Live From Here." When he's not touring the country and frequenting radio and TV, JP can be found overseas, entertaining the troops.
David Granirer is a counselor, stand-up comic, comedy instructor, and the Founder of Stand Up for Mental Health, a program that teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental illness as a way of building self-esteem and fighting public stigma. A pioneer in the use of humor to increase wellness, reduce stress, and cope with change, David is the recipient of the Champion of Mental Health Award, Life Unlimited Award from the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance, and the Welcome Back Award from the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare. Many of his students have gone on to become professional comics, performing at festivals such as Just For Laughs, and on TV shows such as Jay Leno and Craig Ferguson.
Steve Mazan is a Navy Veteran, comedian, and Emmy Award-winning writer. After serving for five years on a submarine, Steve decided to come up for air and start telling jokes. In his decade plus in the entertainment industry, he has performed on many television shows, including the Late Show with David Letterman, and has won awards for his time writing on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show. From performing at clubs, festivals, colleges, corporate events, and cruises, to writing on television shows & movies, and even warming up audiences at TV tapings, Steve has almost done it all in the comedy world.
Benari Poulten is a comedian and writer, born in Boston and currently living in New York. He is a Senior Producer and contributor for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore on Comedy Central and he has toured internationally as a stand-up with the G.I.'s of Comedy. He also performs regularly as a panelist and improviser with the live political improv comedy show Electoral Dysfunction. He received his MFA in screenwriting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, currently serving as a public affairs supervisor. He is a veteran who has served on 3 separate deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
PJ Walsh is a US Navy Veteran, stand-up comic, actor, radio personality, and American Ninja Warrior. After transitioning out of the military, PJ spent years with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, performing on celebrated stages such as Radio City Music Hall, Universal Amphitheater, and Ryman Auditorium. From there, PJ hosted successful shows on Sirius XM and starred in the movie "Delta Farce." He then completed two years of intensive training at the William Esper School of Acting in NYC. Upon completion, he created a solo show recounting his true-life journey. “OVER THERE: Comedy Is His Best Weapon” has been called “Fantastic, heartfelt, hilarious” by Nytheatre.com and chosen “Best” of both the Hollywood Fringe Festival and the San Francisco Fringe Festival. PJ has taken his comedy on tour to entertain the troops in 20 countries around the world.
The Mission Continues
Executive Director - Southeast
Volunteers of America
Founder, Chief Dreamer
Georgetown University Beeck Center
Eastern Virginia Medical School
Program Director, Art Therapy
Art Works Projects