Women in Boots

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Karen Hernandez

Captain Hernandez proudly salutes as Illinois introduces the nation's first all female veteran honor flight. 

Eileen Donovan

Major Donovan speaks to the capabilities of the V-22 Osprey at the Bahrain Airshow. 

Alexandra Brown

Caroline Johnson

Lieutenant Commander Johnson shares her experiences of fighting ISIS from the Navy's F/A 18 cockpit. 

Tyna Korcz

Karen Hernandez, Executive Director, Chicago Veterans 

Karen Hernandez grew up in the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods. She was the first to graduate High School and go on to College, and she was also the first to enlist into the United States Military, U.S. Army in December of 2008. She initially joined as combat medic and went on to Lewis University during her enlistment to later commission as a Medical Services Officer. 

Karen currently serves as a Captain as the Medical Operations/Intel Officer for the 108th MMB, IL National Guard out of North Riverside, IL. She oversees three Area Support Medical Companies and a Ground Ambulance Company with over 250 Soldiers and $50 million dollars of equipment. Her previous roles include Executive Officer, Platoon Leader, and Medical Planner. Karen graduated from Lewis University with a Bachelors of Arts in Criminal Social Justice/Political Science and a minor in Military Science. She completed the Executive Education Program through The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She has also attended not-for-profit management courses at North Park University and the University of Chicago to expand her understanding of the not-for-profit sector. 

Prior to her current role, Karen directed Veteran Services for Richard J. Daley College where she assisted Veterans in transition and had the highest retention rate within the seven city colleges. Karen became heavily involved in the Veteran community in 2015, and has led many projects with several community organizations and had over 250 volunteer hours in a year. Karen began serving Chicago Veterans in 2015, and became the first Executive Director for Chicago Veterans at the end of 2017. 

Karen currently serves on several not-for-profit boards in the community assisting with youth community violence, advocacy efforts for domestic violence, and the Veteran community. Karen served on Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Transition Committee, she is currently involved with City of Chicago Advisory Council on Veterans Affairs, and leads the Veteran Service Coalition Warrior Week Chicago Initiative. She has displayed tremendous involvement, personally and passionately, demonstrating devotion to assisting the Veteran community in all the ways that she can with an emphasis on impacting change within the organizational levels in her community. 

Major Eileen C. Donovan, Executive Assistant at Boston Consulting Group

Eileen Donovan is a native of Chicago’s South Side where she grew up playing backyard hockey with her four older brothers. She attended Mother McAuley High School and graduated in 2002 from Texas A&M with a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences.

On December 10, 2004, Eileen became a 3rd generation US Marine when she was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. She attended flight school in Pensacola, Florida and received her Naval Aviator’s Wings from her father, Major Joseph Patrick Donovan USMCR, on July 27, 2007. Upon completion of training on the CH-46 helicopter, she was assigned to “The SeaElk” of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 at Miramar, California. During this time, Eileen was the Squadron Adjutant, Administration and Legal Officer as well as a CH-46E pilot. In August 2009, she deployed with HMM-166 and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard and conducted bilateral training and theatre security operations in East Timor, Djibouti and the African Command Area of Responsibility. Upon returning in March 2010, Captain Donovan began the transition with her squadron to the MV-22B Osprey. One of her final accomplishments as a CH-46E pilot came on April 21, 2010. In her father’s former squadron, “The Purple Foxes”, she flew the same serial number aircraft 41 years later to the day after her father, who had flown it while conducting combat operations in Vietnam.

In June 2010, Captain Donovan was an inaugural member of the re-designated Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (VMM-166) and became an MV-22B pilot in October of that year. In September 2011, Captain Donovan took over the squadron’s logistics, supply and embarkation department in addition to her duties as an aircraft commander and instructor pilot. In August 2013, Captain Donovan deployed with VMM-166 and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Boxer. During their deployment, Captain Donovan participated in theatre security training operations in the Philippines, Djibouti, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea. She also conducted multinational training with the Italian Navy as well as the British Royal Navy.

In November 2014, Eileen completed her ten years of Active Duty service and transitioned to the Marine Corps Reserves with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 764 (VMM-764). Major Donovan spent three years with VMM-764 and acted as the squadron Adjutant as well as Section Leader and Functional Check Pilot. In January 2017, Major Donovan deployed with VMM-764 in the Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response - Africa in support of Marine Forces Europe and Africa. She conducted bilateral training with the Spanish Air Force as well as theatre level contingency operations. Major Donovan is now the European Theater Liaison Officer for the 4th Marine Air Wing Aviation Command and Control Team. In her civilian life over the years Eileen has gone from Marshall Field’s sales clerk, to Chief of Staff for a successful tech start-up, to her current role as an Executive Assistant at Boston Consulting Group.

Eileen is a student at the Harris School of Public Policy’s Evening Master’s Program.

Alexandra Brown, Director of Operations, Student Veterans of America-Illinois

Alexandra Brown is an Air Force Veteran who spent most of her career at Air Force Special Operations Command with four deployments to Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. She provided intelligence support for the MH-53 PAVE LOW IV aircrews before being handpicked as the first intelligence OIC to set up the intelligence division for Air Force Special Operation’s inaugural CV-22 squadron at Hurlburt Field, FL. Alexandra finished her Air Force career at Air Force Space Command as the Course Director for the Department of Defense’s only initial space and missile intelligence course, Space and Missile Formal Training Unit (SMIFTU).  

She is the Director of Operations for the Student Veterans of America - Illinois Chapter, which provides student veterans and student veteran organizations resources for academic advancement, leadership development, career progression, and civic engagement. She is also the co-founder of the Graham Brigade, a student run organization at the University of Chicago's Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. This organization welcomes military-affiliated students and first-responders to the Graham School by providing assistance with adapting to student life and fostering camaraderie. Alexandra is an advisor for the University of Chicago’s PAVE (Peer Advisors for Veteran Education) Program, providing support for incoming student veterans. 

Alexandra earned a master’s degree in Biological Anthropology from Northern Illinois University. She is currently earning her second master's degree in Threat and Response Management from the University of Chicago in hopes of returning to the field of emergency management - threat mitigation. She spends her free time practicing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, CrossFit, and enjoys participating in Spartan Races. 

Lieutenant Commander Caroline Johnson - U.S. Naval Reserve

Caroline Johnson graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2009 and became an F/A-18 Super Hornet, Weapons Systems Officer, meaning she communicated, targeted and coordinated all the bomb and missile employments in her aircraft. She was one of two female aviators in her 230-person unit, and one of the only 1.7% women flying fighter jets in the Navy. She deployed in 2014 aboard the USS George HW Bush and saw combat action in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and was the first woman to employ weapons on ISIS in Iraq from her F/A-18. 

Wrapping up her active duty career, Caroline earned her master’s degree and returned to the Naval Academy to teach leadership and run aviation recruitment. 

Caroline’s memoir, JET GIRL, published last year and she was featured on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, MSNBC and she is currently a professional speaker renowned for her remarkable stories, business anecdotes, and relatable personality. Additionally, Caroline is pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and is a Leadership Lecturer at University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. 

Tyna Korcz enlisted in the Army in 2008 as a Human Intelligence Collector. She served for four years active duty travelling the world and serving in South Korea, Germany, and deploying to Afghanistan is support of Operation Enduring Freedom. After getting out of the Army in 2012 as a Sergeant, she finished her education obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from DePaul University and her Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern Illinois University. While in grad school she interned at U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth’s Office in February 2017. After completing her schooling, she got a full-time position with Senator Duckworth’s office working on Veterans casework. She now works as the Senator’s Outreach Coordinator and Caseworker on Veterans and Defense issues in the Chicago office.