Board of Directors

Mike Burton, Board Chair 

Mike was commissioned in the USAF in 1962 and spent the early years of his Air Force career in Special Operations. He was assigned to the 56th Air Commando Wing in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand in 1966 as the US was building up its bombing missions into Laos. The 56th was heavily involved in interdiction warfare against the Ho Chi Minh Trail that ran through Laos.
 
Following his active duty service, Mike went to graduate school and in 1977 began working with the Hmong refugees who were relocated to Portland, Oregon. Working with local governments, to help the refugees with housing, education and employment. Along with the local Hmong leadership, he helped establish the Immigration and Refugee Community Organization, which today serves over 25,000 immigrants and refugees from many countries, annually. Concerned about the negative impact that the US left in Laos, Mike first met with Legacies of War staff during a west coast tour made in 2004 and since that time hasn’t stopped working to remove the unexploded ordinances left behind in Laos.
 
Mike served in the Oregon Legislature for five terms and was elected as the Executive Officer for the Portland Metropolitan government serving from 1995-2003. Before retiring, his last position was as a vice provost at Portland State University.
 
“I saw the war in Laos both from the air and on the ground and am well acquainted with the destruction and misery that was created. The Laotian people were caught in a proxy war they did not want to fight. One of my responsibilities while assigned to the units that dropped those munitions, was to insure that the war was kept as a “secret”. Today, over fifty years later, the lethal remnants of the Secret War are no longer secret but are still killing innocent people. Legacies of War is in the vanguard to work  towards trying to  clear those UXOs and make Laos a safe and productive nation ; I am honored to serve on the Board.”

Kevin Pohmer, Vice Chair 

“As vice chair of this mission-driven organization, I hope to continue the amazing work that has been done over the last 17 years by many before me to raise awareness and increase funding to ensure that we can remove every last UXO in Laos, and allow Laotians to walk freely again without concerns for their safety and well-being.” 

In addition to his role as vice chair, Pohmer also serves as chair of the Fundraising Committee and the Innovation Committee, where his experience as an investor, advisor, and entrepreneur makes him well-suited to the task. He was a founding member and board member of Fintech71, a non-profit that helps accelerate fintech startups in the State of Ohio. Pohmer also served as the CEO of IXN, a cutting edge Insurtech, and Financial Guard, a leading digital wealth management startup that was acquired by Legg Mason.

“As a lifelong student and reader of history,” Pohmer stated, 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 U.S. 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.” 

Pohmer enjoys giving back to the central Ohio community. He has been an active guest speaker within Ohio State’s business school, 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. Pohmer has a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Law from Binghamton University and a Masters of Business Administration from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.


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 CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of HELIX Environmental Planning, Inc. (HELIX). From 1991 until 2020 he proudly guided the establishment of HELIX as one of California’s most respected employee-owned environmental planning firms employing approximately 200 staff members in 7 offices throughout the state.

In 2008 Dave relinquished the HELIX CEO role to follow other pursuits, however, in 2012 he was asked by the firm’s Board to renew his day-to-day involvement with the company as the firm’s Northern California Regional Manager, a post he held until 2020. He is currently the Principal of Green Valley Planning, LLC and a minority Partner in KI Investment Holdings, LLC.  

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 and he is a Board Trustee of the San Diego Botanic Garden. 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 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”.


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.


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.”


Bob Preston

Over the past 4 years, Bob has split his time between Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Paris. He currently operates a local charity in Luang Prabang providing relief to local families hit by job losses from Covid-19. Bob also owns a travel agency in the USA, and has traveled to 111 countries and worked on 6 continents. Bob holds Bachelor’s degrees in Biophysics and Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign, a Master’s in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin Madison, and a MBA from INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France.

 


  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.”


Jessica Rotondi 

Jessica Pearce Rotondi is a journalist and the author of a book about her family’s involvement in the U.S. bombing of Laos: What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers. Her work has been published by The History Channel, Reader’s Digest, Vogue, Salon, Atlas Obscura, The Huffington Post, and Refinery29. Previously, she was a senior editor at The Huffington Post and a staff member at the PEN American Center, the world’s oldest literary human rights organization. Her first job in New York City was at St. Martin’s Press, where she had a “room of her own” in the Flatiron Building to fill with books. She grew up in New England and is a graduate of Brown University. Connect with Jessica on Twitter and Instagram @JessicaRotondi or visit JessicaPearceRotondi.com.

My uncle was on a covert bombing mission over Laos on March 29, 1972 when his plane was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile. For 36 years, my family fought the U.S. government for answers about their missing son—and American involvement in Laos.

In 2013, I traveled to Sepon, the village my uncle was bombing the night he disappeared. I’ll never forget the sight of a child’s Superman pajamas hanging on a laundry line in Sepon. This symbol of American heroism was stretched over a crater left by U.S. bombs. I spent a decade interviewing refugees, veterans, and former CIA agents about their experiences during the Secret War to write What We Inherit.My mission as a journalist and board member is to ensure that the next generation doesn’t carry the burden of this terrible “secret.” It is only through confronting the past that Americans can be true allies to the people of Laos in their fight for a safer future.”


May Saechao 

May Saechao is a first generation born in the U.S., Mien American. May lives in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) where she was born and raised and has spent the majority of her life. Growing up, living around the community was important for May, which is one of the reasons why, to this day, May still calls the PNW her home.

May holds a Bachelors of Science in Criminology with a Minor in Psychology. By trade, May is a civil servant for the state government where she has spent over 15+yrs in Public Safety, and in her spare time outside of her profession and personal life, May works as an advocate for underrepresented and marginalized communities. Her interest stems from much of her life experiences growing up in the Mien and SE Asian community, watching many families struggle and continue to still face the same barriers today. May is a firm believer in proactive solutions, and with the tools and resources at her disposal, you can find her at various engagements helping in different community events.

It is a privilege to be here as a member of the Mien community, working alongside talented and dedicated colleagues in helping advance the humanitarian mission of Legacies. It is even more of an honor as a first generation born Mien American woman to be able to represent her entire community of people whose lives were so devastatingly impacted by the war. The aftereffects of trauma from war span across an entire lifetime and existence of a community, not just to those that were exposed, or the generation thereafter – it is felt in the past, present, and future. The Secret War is an inevitable part of history, one that hundreds of years from now, generations later, will still belong to the descendants of SE Asian refugees. My mission in joining Legacies is to deliver a message of inclusivity and representation to everyone whose history is embedded in these series of events. I am confident with the partnership, not only has the Mien community gained an invaluable ally, but I have also gained a family of dedicated community brothers and sisters. If there is anything I have learned in advocacy, it is that each step is one step closer to the goal, and stronger together.


Khamsone Sirimanivong

Khamsone currently serves as President of Arizona Costume Institute at Phoenix Art Museum, which strives to preserve cultural and social history through clothing and design. She also sits on the board of ACEL – Asian Corporate and Entrepreneur Leaders, and on the board of Skykids AZ, which serves special needs and terminally ill children. She studied architecture at Arizona State University and fashion design at FIDM – Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco and Phoenix College. However her professional experience has been in marketing in various industries including bank corporations, tourism, real estate, property management, editorial and a few non-profits such as land conservation and community healthcare. She has been both a member and officer of many civic, community and leadership organizations and programs since she was 15 years old, fulfilling a call to community service at an early age. She moonlights as a clothing designer with clients across the US, Germany, France, London, and Hong Kong and aspires to be a writer and share her family’s Asian-American experience. Her greatest accomplishment is raising three amazing children. She hopes her connection and efforts in the arts community will create awareness, unity and support to further the mission of Legacies.

“I was born in Laos just one year before Laos fell to communism. Although I was just an infant when my family was exiled because of my father’s involvement with the Lao military, I remember quite a bit of the dramatic journey as it took us six years to escape. We finally emigrated to the states in 1981. My father never talked about Laos or the secret war when I was a child and sadly he never would. He died when I was a teenager. His passing raised so many questions and inspired me to research our family history and that is how I came upon the Secret War. Years later, I discovered the mission of Legacies of War and I knew I had found my purpose. I feel deeply connected to my father, my history and my roots through this opportunity to serve on the Board and help further the great humanitarian work of Legacies for the people of Laos.


 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.”


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.”


Sophia Tran-Vu

Sophia is a Director on TD Securities’ US Fixed Income Sales team based in New York. After graduating with a Bachelor’s of Commerce, Major in Finance degree from the University of British Columbia, Sophia joined TD Securities. Sophia has been an active member of TD Securities’ US Women in Leadership (WIL) committee. She also serves as the interim co-chair of TD Securities’ US Minorities in Leadership (MIL) committee and is the current AAPI lead. Originally from Canada, Sophia resides in Manhattan with her husband and son.

“As a daughter of Vietnamese refugees, I grew up seeing first hand how foreign public policy impacted people like my parents and left a lasting impression.”


David Yuttal

David Yuttal works in Institutional Derivative Sales as an Executive Director for Mizuho Securities.  He is responsible for covering some of the largest domestic asset managers, banks, and GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises) within the capital markets and for asset liability management.  David has worked in finance for over 20 years.  Prior to joining Mizuho, he spent time at TD Securities, Credit Suisse, and Deutsche Bank where he lived in London.  David graduated from Binghamton University in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.  He lives in Manhasset, New York with his wife and two children.

“As Americans, we often take for granted the relative peace and stability we enjoy in our daily lives.  At the same time, American foreign policy decisions and military campaigns of the past still reverberate to this day in countries long after we have left. It is deeply troubling to think that the people of Laos are still impacted by a war that ended nearly 50 years ago.  I am proud to help Legacies of War in their efforts to raise awareness of a tragedy that has been ignored for too long.”


Alexandra Hiniker, Former Board Chair

Alexandra Hiniker has led 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.”


Brett Dakin, Former Board 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 Hillary Clinton’s 2012 visit to Laos and the decade-long increase in US funding for bomb removal. He brought to Legacies a wealth of hands-on experience in Laos and as a lawyer, an understanding of the legal issues facing Laos today.

Brett Dakin is the author of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos, which Rough Guides calls “a must for anyone looking to understand Laos today” and American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason.  His writing has appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and The Guardian.  As Former Chair of Legacies of War, Brett oversaw advocacy efforts that led to a 15-fold increase in U.S. funding for bomb clearance and culminated in President Obama’s historic visit to Laos.  A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, Brett grew up in London and now lives in New York City with his husband—and their dog, Carl.