Board of Directors

Sera Koulabdara, Executive Director

Sera serves as Executive Director of Legacies of War, the leading U.S.-based educational and advocacy organization working to address the impact of conflict in Laos during the Vietnam War-era, including removal of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Prior to this role, Sera was a long-time volunteer and served on Legacies’ board in multiple leadership positions including Vice-Chair.
Sera began her non-profit career with The United Way of Central Ohio where she served as Sr. Relationship Manager for four years. In this role, she acted as a philanthropic thought partner and trusted advisor to major central Ohio corporations. Sera also has tenure working at national non-profits like The American Heart Association, Make-A-Wish and Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
She also has a passion for the world’s economy, and first launched her career in Lommel, Belgium as an International Business Consultant. Sera specialized in helping emerging markets and completed projects in over 10 countries including Kuwait, Ghana and South Africa. While in Botswana, Sera discovered her passion for helping others while volunteering with the Clinton Foundation.
Sera received her undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University and graduated with a double major in International Finance and Marketing. She also has a minor in Spanish and speaks four languages.

“My father taught my siblings and I that what you leave behind is so much more important than what you take. During my father’s last days; he shared painful memories of the devastating effect the Secret War had on him and the people he loved. These horrific experiences led my father to live a life full of love, compassion, and service to others —As a Board Member, I hope to carry his legacy to the next generation, create hope, and make a positive impact in the lives of people in my father’s beloved homeland, Laos.”

Alexandra Hiniker, Chair

Alexandra Hiniker has worked on humanitarian disarmament issues around the world for more than a decade. In Laos, she was the Cluster Munition Coalition representative, working in close partnership with the Lao government, the United Nations, and civil society to plan and implement the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  She then moved to Lebanon for the Second Meeting of States Parties. Alexandra has also worked for the United Nations mine action program in Cambodia, and advocated for stronger humanitarian disarmament policies as the PAX Representative to the United Nations in New York. Alexandra earned a B.A. from the University of Chicago, an M.A. from Uniwersytet Jagiellonski in Krakow, Poland, and an M.S. in Urban Policy and Leadership from Hunter College. She also studied at Sciences Po-Paris.  

“Having seen firsthand the impact that Legacies of War has in both Laos and in the United States, I am honored to serve on the Board and further the organization’s critical mission. The end of this legacy is in sight. With sustained efforts to clear bombs, assist survivors, and educate people about the Secret War in Laos, I am confident we can reach it.”

Suzette Gabriel-Schoebitz, Vice Chair

Suzette Gabriel-Schoebitz is a jewelry designer based in Munich, Germany. Born in New York City to a French father and a Lao/ Norwegian mother, in the late ‘60s her family first traveled to Laos to find their lost Lao relatives outside of Vientiane. This first experience left a lasting impression on Suzette who felt her ties to her heritage and wanted to one day return to help the country of her ancestors. Suzette’s career began as a classical ballet dancer traveling the world.

She later studied making jewelry and created her own label, Rewarded a recognition from the Academy of Art in Munich, Suzette presented her pieces in exhibitions and performances while creating ’one of a kind’ pieces for her clients. In 2011 Suzette began a project, Hoi Sang, to work with the jewelry craftsmen in Luang Prabang creating forgotten and new jewelry sold in the luxury hotels there. Providing quality tools and guiding the craftsmen to preserve their culture they are learning through the mutual trust that they can make a difference.

“When I was 9 years of age, I wanted to become a doctor and return to help Laos with an NGO organisation. I didn’t become that doctor but have found another way to help using my creative endeavours. After President Obama’s recent visit which helped awaken the world to Laos’ plight, the time is ripe for us to do more. I embrace this opportunity to work together with Legacies of War as a beginning to an exciting new chapter in my mission to help Laos—to help empower the Lao to move ahead, lead a better life and take responsibility for their country. To enable this, we must make the land safe to walk forward and develop!”

Ed Pagano, Secretary

Ed Pagano joined Akin Gump after serving in the Obama administration as Senate Liaison and Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. In this role, Ed was responsible for managing the Senate Legislative Affairs Office and charged with advancing the president’s legislative agenda and promoting his priorities on Capitol Hill.

Before joining the White House in 2012, Ed worked for nearly two decades with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), both for the senator’s office and the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Leahy. This included serving as Sen. Leahy’s chief of staff, managing the senator’s offices in Washington and Vermont and overseeing the senator’s work on the Judiciary, Agriculture and Appropriations committees. During that time, he advised Sen. Leahy on legislation—such as the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the first major reform of the patent system in 60 years—and Supreme Court hearings and confirmations, including those of Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan.

Ed began his professional career as an associate at a large law firm before moving on to serve as a field director for the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign in 1992. During college, he played power forward for four years for the Vermont Catamounts basketball team. He remains active at the University of Vermont as a member of the board of trustees and through alumni and student engagement.

Dave Claycomb, Treasurer 

Dave Claycomb is the founder and former Chairman of the Board of Directors of HELIX Environmental Planning, Inc. where he remains an active Board member. Since 1991 he has proudly guided the establishment of HELIX as one of California’s most respected employee-owned environmental planning firms employing 200 staff members in offices throughout the state. In 2008 Dave relinquished the HELIX helm to follow other pursuits, however, in 2012 he renewed his day-to-day involvement as the firm’s Northern California Regional Manager. Dave also sits on the Board of the San Diego Habitat Conservancy, a successful non-profit land conservancy that he helped to establish in 2000. In 2008 he endowed the David Claycomb Environmental Sciences Scholarship at the University of New Hampshire and in 2009 he was presented the Outstanding Contribution to the Environmental Profession Award by the San Diego Chapter of the Association of Environmental Professionals. He is a minority partner in KI Investment Holdings, LLC, and with the Tour De Asia Bicycle Touring Company based in Thailand. He is also a regular advisor to other for-profit and non-profit boards regarding strategic planning and ownership/leadership transition.

“Serving on the Legacies’ Board is a natural extension of my personal and familial ties to Laos and its people. My wife and her family are Laotian and I have studied the history of the region and have travelled there extensively. I have listened to many first-hand accounts of life in Laos during and subsequent to the Secret War and I feel obligated to do whatever I can to help resolve the scourge of UXO in this wonderful part of the world”.

 Ret. Ambassador Douglas Hartwick

Ambassador Hartwick was the United States Ambassador to Laos from 2001-2004. During his tenure, he worked closely with the Lao and Hmong-American communities in Minnesota, Washington state and California and oversaw the signing of the first US-Laos Bilateral agreement since the Vietnam War in 2003. While Ambassador, he was voted “Man of the Year 2003” by the editors of the online periodical Vientiane Times as well as the 2004 National League of Families League Award for Sustained Effort and dedication for his work in Laos. Apart from Laos, Ambassador Hartwick was on the faculty of the National Defense University, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for South Asia, and office director at the State Department for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. His service in the State Department resulted in his reception of the Department’s Superior Honor Award in 1982, 1984, and 1988 and a Meritorious Honor Award in 1996.

He resides Scottsdale, Arizona and is a board member of the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. He received his B.A. in Government from the College of William and Mary, M.A. in Economics from Washington State, M.S. in Applied Economics from Stanford, and M.S. in National Strategic Studies from the National Defense University. He speaks French, Spanish and Lao.

“Those of you who have visited Laos can appreciate the beauty of the country and warmth of its people who have worked hard to overcome the legacy of the most heavily bombed country in modern history. I am proud to help Legacies of War continue its remarkable work to help eliminate the unexploded ordnance that still threatens the Lao people.”

Benny Kong

Benny is a young serial entrepreneur, mentor and social activist from the small country/island of Singapore. From starting his first venture (MyLaoHome) at 18 years old in hospitality, he has since ventured into other related startups in IT, tourism and social enterprise including Benny is passionate about the UXO issue in Laos and is committed to making a positive difference.

“I plan to expand Legacies’ presence globally and bring more awareness to the legacy and history of the Secret War in Laos through making engaging content accessible and assisting in distributing more information about the impactful work of Legacies of War. I want to increase efforts to bridge and connect various Laotian and Singaporean communities as I am based in these two regions.”

Pajouablai Monica Lee

Pajouablai Monica Lee is a proud Hmong American community advocate from St. Paul, Minnesota. She is currently a Masters of Public Affairs Candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California Berkeley. Prior to this, Monica managed several national programs at OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates for nearly five years. Monica is also a co-founder of the Not Your Average Mai podcast which focuses on empowering the voices of Hmong American women and elevating progressive issues relevant to the Southeast Asian American community. In the long term, she hopes to remove barriers to success for low-income youth and communities of color through grantmaking, inclusive policies, and BIPOC-led community programs. 

As a daughter of Hmong refugees from the Secret War, I am personally committed to Legacies’ mission because it is tied to my family’s history. We must clear the pathway to allow our future generations to heal and thrive. I’m hopeful that I can achieve this through Legacies’ advocacy and UXO work.

Palina Louangketh

Dr. Palina Louangketh is a former Lao refugee from Pakse, Laos into Idaho since 1981 and currently serves as the Advisor for the Idaho Lao Community. Her family’s journey inspired her vision to explore an innovative approach to honor the human journey on a global scale. As the Founder and Executive Director of the Idaho Museum of International Diaspora (IMID), she is passionate about helping others find their inspirations to transform possibilities into reality.

She is also a seasoned health care and public health leader with 25 years of experience in strategic leadership, project management, data analytics, change management, quality improvement, performance management, and strategic relations. Because she lives, breathes, and speaks strategy, Dr. Louangketh is comfortable in complex and changing environments. She holds a Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL) degree from the School of Business and Leadership at Regent University with a concentration in Strategic Foresight. An alumna of Boise State University, she completed both a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management and a Master of Health Science. Committed to her Bronco roots, she teaches in the College of Health Sciences and the University Foundations Program at Boise State. Additionally, she designed courses aligned to the IMID’s Global Diaspora Curriculum in the Honors College at Boise State and teaches as a Professor of Multicultural Studies.

“As a former refugee from Laos into Idaho in 1981 and serving as the Advisor to the Idaho Lao Community…and in partnership with Legacies of War, I am honored to serve as a transformational change agent uniting people as powerful tools to advance efforts to save lives.” 

Titus Peachey, Former Chair

Executive Committee Member

Titus and his wife Linda were the directors of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) aid program in Laos from 1980-1985. Titus returned to Laos in 1994 to help coordinate the beginning of the humanitarian demining project in Laos, working alongside the Mines Advisory Group and the Lao Committee for Social and Veterans Affairs. He is the recently retired Director of Peace Education for MCC U.S.

I am a member of the Legacies of War Board because of the shattered Lao hoehead that has lain on my desk for more than 30 years. It was given to us by a man from Moung Kham Village who lost his wife and the mother of his 11 children to an unexploded U.S. cluster bomb in 1981. Each day it tells me that I must be deliberate and creative if I wish to contribute to a future of safety and peace. Legacies of War provides a wonderful opportunity to do this.

Listen to Titus speak on cluster bombs – WBEZ: In Laos, American Vietnam-era cluster bombs still pose grave threat (December 5, 2011)

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Orathai Phommala 

Fundraising Committee Member

After relocating from refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, Orathai and her family arrived in upstate New York winter of 1987. Orathai received her bachelor’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, and recently completed a certificate program from New York University Schack Institute. She has been living in New York City for the past 9 years and works for a real estate developer.

“Having known nothing about the Secret War and its devastating impact, Legacies’ advocacy for the clearance of UXO has become my personal mission. I am honored to be part of a board who work tirelessly in bringing awareness to the UXO problem, and thankful for their efforts to end remnants of post-Vietnam War.”

Chris Phommas

Fundraising Committee Member

Christopher Phommas serves as a Board Member on Legacies of War.  He is the President/Owner of a portfolio of businesses that span from Staffing & Recruiting, Construction, Healthcare and Virtual Services.  Chris graduated from Ohio University and worked at AT&T for nearly 15 years.  Shortly after, he pursued his newfound passion for creating & developing new businesses in the start-up space in Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach. Chris is married to April and have two children, Addison (6) and Greyson (3).  When he’s not working, he is either playing tennis or spending time with the kids.  Chris is a frequent explorer and enjoys giving back to the community.  

“I emigrated from Laos when I was a toddler. As I became older, my mother shared stories about her daily life of experiencing the bombs coming down near her village. Most of my relatives still live in Laos and it would be an honor to be a part of the Legacies of War Board to help rid the country of the dangers.”

 Kevin Pohmer

Fundraising Committee Chair

Kevin’s career as an entrepreneur got started as the CEO and Chairman of Financial Guard, one of the pioneers of the Roboadvisor industry, which transformed how individuals receive and transact investment advice.  Kevin successfully led the team that built, brought to market, and scaled Financial Guard’s technology and completed the successful sale of the company to Legg Mason (NYSE: LM) in August, 2016.  Today, Kevin continues to be engaged in the fintech community as an investor, advisor, and entrepreneur.  He was a founding member of Fintech71 where he served as Entrepreneur in Residence & Board Member.  Kevin is a partner of HorizonTwoLabs focused on corporate innovation and is the acting CEO for IXN, the leading mobile solution for life insurance in the growing insurtech industry, as well as advising and investing in a number of other early stage ventures, with a focus on fintech. Kevin Pohmer began his career at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and played an integral role in growing their Worldwide Securities Services business in the Americas as an Executive Director.     

In addition to his corporate career Kevin enjoys giving back to his community.  He has been an active guest speaker within Ohio State’s business school, a “Corporate Champion” of Junior Achievement, a Member of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Council and Marketing Council, and youth coach of soccer, basketball and lacrosse within the Olentangy Youth Athletic League. Kevin has a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Law from Binghamton University and a Masters of Business Administration from The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

“As a lifelong student and reader of history, I have studied the impacts of wars and the aftermaths to societies. In some cases countries are rebuilt and in other cases countries are forgotten. Through my involvement as a Board Member of Legacies of War, I hope that I can raise awareness here in the US and help make a positive impact within Laos, as it is a country whose citizens, a full generation later, are still feeling the impacts of war.”

  Benjamin Rhodes

Benjamin Rhodes was the “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting” from 2009-2017 under President Obama.
During his tenure, Rhodes spearheaded initiatives to help President Obama engage with countries, like Laos, in hopes of fostering good relations, development, and human rights. In 2011, Rhodes was included in Time Magazine’s “40 under 40” list of powerful and prominent young professionals. Before joining the former president’s administration, Rhodes worked on Obama’s speechwriting team during his campaign for the presidency. Days before leaving office, Obama appointed Rhodes as a member of the US Holocaust Memorial Council.He resides in Washington, DC with his wife and two daughters. He received his BA in English and Political Science from Rice University and his MFA in creative writing from New York University.

“ In Laos, we have an opportunity to address the legacy of war while building a new future… In doing so, we have an opportunity to forge new friendships and partnerships in an important part of the world in ways that will enhance our security, opportunity, and commitment to human dignity.”

 Terence Szuplat

Terence Szuplat is the founder of Global Voices, a strategic communications and speechwriting firm that draws on his 20 years of experience supporting political, business, and nonprofit leaders. As a foreign policy speechwriter for President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017, Terry helped develop hundreds of speeches on U.S. foreign policy and global security. As a Special Assistant to the President, and Senior Director of Speechwriting at the National Security Council staff, he joined President Obama on visits to more than 40 countries, including Laos. Previously, he served on the Senate Armed Services Committee staff and in the Department of Defense. Terry earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from American University and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and two children.

“I first went to Laos in 2016 as part of President Obama’s historic visit as the first U.S. president to travel to the country. I was shocked to learn the full scope of the U.S. Secret War and how 80 million unexploded bombs and cluster munitions continue to kill innocent men, women and children across Laos. Sitting in the Lao National Cultural Hall in Vientiane, I listened as President Obama said that, given our history there, “the United States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal.” To me, it’s an honor to serve on the board of Legacies of War because it’s a way to help make sure that America upholds its moral obligation—that we learn from our history, help Laos heal and give hope to the next generation.”

Emmy Thammasine

Emmy Thammasine is an architectural designer residing in Denver, Colorado, and works for the City and County of Denver at the Denver International Airport. Since graduating with his Architecture degree from the University of Colorado in 1999, he’s worked for some of the largest Architecture firms in the world and has been a part of design and construction capital projects in the government, corporate and airport sectors. Born in the Ubon, Thailand refugee camp, Emmy and his family arrived in America in 1979 in Mobile, Alabama, and has had quite a journey having lived in Louisiana, Texas, California, and Colorado. One thing he’s never forgotten is his roots and where his family came from. For that reason, he’s stayed connected to the Lao community all his life and has committed much of his free time to serve and volunteering within the community. One of his biggest volunteer and on-going efforts in designing and constructing a new Lao Buddhist Temple in Denver to replace the one that was lost to a fire and rebuild a community that was lost in the ashes. Outside of work and community involvement, Emmy enjoys photography, music, Scrabble, and a good ole Texas barbecue!

“Whenever an opportunity presents itself for me to be a difference-maker and do something good from the heart, there is no second thought about it. I’ve followed Legacies for a few years now and have always appreciated all the work they’ve done. For me to have come on board as a board member, it’s an honor to carry on the legacy, to learn more about our past, and improve for future generations.”

Adam Thongsavat

Adam serves as Airbnb’s Deputy Public Policy Director for California, Alaska, and Hawaii. Prior to Airbnb, he served in Ohio, California, Arkansas, Texas, and Iowa on presidential, senate, gubernatorial, and congressional campaigns.

In 2013, Adam joined Legacies of War as the Project Director for “Voices from Laos: Clearing Bombs, Protecting Lives”, a groundbreaking national speakers tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. On the tour, Legacies traveled to 12 cities across the United States and hosted 17 public events which included a kickoff at the United Nations. Adam has stayed active with Legacies as a volunteer since 2014.

“Growing up in Merced, CA, home to many Southeast Asian refugees particularly Hmong, Lao and Mien, I witnessed firsthand the profound impact of war and the deep socioeconomic struggles as 1st generation Americans struggle to resettle in the United States. It was that experience that led me to become deeply interested in how public policy decisions shape the lives of refugees, immigrants, and citizens. When I first learned about the history the bombings and the 80 million tons of UXO that still remain in the ground, I knew I had to be involved in an organization that was devoted towards ending this tragic legacy of war.”

 Brett Dakin, Former Chair

Brett Dakin served as board chair for over a decade, where he helped guide Legacies of War in achieving several key milestones, including Secretary Hilary Clinton’s visit to Laos in 2012 and the increase in U.S. funding for bomb removal – from $2 million in 2004 to nearly $20 million in 2015. He is currently General Counsel of the Child Mind Institute, a $25 million, 120-employee organization dedicated to transforming mental health care for children everywhere. Brett is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and the author of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos, which Rough Guides calls “a must for anyone looking to understand Laos today.”