WASHINGTON — Pop star Taylor Swift, NFL lineman Alejandro Villanueva, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and a trio of Medal of Honor recipients headline HillVets' list of the 100 most influential personalities on veterans issues for 2016.
The full list, set to be released Monday, is the advocacy group's third annual look at prominent former military members, current troops and community supporters who helped broaden public debate on veterans issues last year.
HillVets mission is to increase the number of veterans working in government and widening public awareness of their challenges. The annual list includes a cross-section of entertainers, politicians, non-profit organizations and media members with a "mission and purpose of giving back to those that have sacrificed so much for our nation."
Included in the latest group are political leaders like former Secretary of State (and Navy veteran) John Kerry, former Veterans Affairs Secretary (and Army veteran) Bob McDonald and current VA Secretary nominee Dr. David Shulkin, and new House Veterans' Affairs Chairman (and Army veteran) Dr. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.
The list also highlights young advocates whose work has had national impact on veterans issues, including Vietnam Veterans of America assistant policy director Kris Goldsmith, Scoutcomms' vice president Lauren Jenkins, and PenFed development director Brian Hawthorne.
Swift's inclusion may come as a surprise to individuals outside the community, because much of her charitable actions on behalf of the military and veterans have been kept low-key.
Those include a recent private concert for a 96-year-old WWII veteran, a surprise appearance at an Army officer's wedding, and a phone call to the family of a fallen Marine to express her sympathy. HillVets organizers called those moves part of a long-term pattern of "continued, humble and genuine service to the military and veteran community."
Actor Morgan Freeman, an Air Force veteran involved in numerous military charities, and Marine Corps veteran Maximilian Uriarte, whose Terminal Lance comic strip is published in Marine Corps Times, were similarly honored in the list’s artist category.
Villanueva, a 2010 West Point graduate who played on the Black Knights football team, is a former rifle platoon leader who served in Afghanistan before turning to a pro-football career. He is now a starter on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his story of military service has been featured in numerous news stories. He was a finalist for the USAA "Salute to Service" award, given for charitable work to support the military.
Greitens is a former Navy SEAL and founder of the advocacy organization The Mission Continues. He won election as the governor of Missouri last fall, despite never having run for elected office before.
The Medal of Honor recipients on the list include Afghanistan war veterans Navy SEAL Edward Byers Jr. and Army Maj. William Swenson, as well as Vietnam war veteran former Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles.
Organizers are also honoring the unnamed woman scheduled to join the 75th Ranger Regiment later this spring, the first female soldier to meet the intense physical requirements for the post since combat jobs were opened to women last year.
The full list will be posted on
on Monday, Feb. 13. The honorees will be recognized in a Washington, D.C. ceremony on March 15.