Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, announced the 2023 class of veterans for American-Made Heroes. In honor of this year the distillery created the American Hero Edition product will now be a limited release of Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch Bourbon, with each selected veteran featured on a hangtag that adorns more than 135,000 bottles nationwide.

Each of the six selected veterans is affiliated with organizations that were recipients of the 2022 Veteran Community Action Grants awarded by the Evan Williams American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund. First established in 2020, the American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund continues the brand’s support of veteran communities via its Evan Williams American-Made Heroes program, established in 2015.

With distillery-provided notes, the 2023 Evan Williams American-Made Heroes are:

Brian Barber
Oxnard, California
Sergeant E5, U.S. Marine Corps

  • Inspired by his grandfather, a U.S. Navy cook, Brian enlisted in the Marine Corps as a radio operator, keeping squadrons and artillery units in constant communication with each other to ensure their safety. After being honorably discharged because of a chronic back condition, Brian remained steadfast in his determination to give back to others. In 2015, he founded Mission FISH (Fishing, Interacting, Sharing and Healing), allowing participants to develop a community and embrace the healing qualities of nature through group fishing trips. During these expeditions, veterans can connect and share their experiences. To learn more about Mission FISH, visit missionfishusa.org.

Chaz Koch
Niantic, Connecticut
Petty Officer 3rd Class, U.S. Navy

  • Chaz was literally and figuratively born into the military. His father was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Keflavik, Iceland, where Chaz was born, though he grew up on the shores of Connecticut. Ultimately, Chaz also found his home in the U.S. Navy. During his tenure, Chaz served as a Master-at-Arms Petty Officer, 3rd Class, in Georgia and Bahrain and earned the prestigious rank of Expert Marksman in both the pistol and the rifle. He was an Assistant Squad Leader and PT Coordinator in Kings Bay, Georgia. After completing his service, Chaz coupled his passion for animals with his desire to help those in need and co-founded Operation Paws on the Ground, a nonprofit that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters, trains them to provide support as service animals, and pairs them with veterans in need. This organization also hires veterans as trainers, allowing them to experience the emotional fulfillment of working with animals while securing employment. Learn more about how Chaz and Operation Paws on the Ground are changing the lives of veterans and rescue dogs at operationpawsontheground.org.

David E. McCracken
Wake Forest, North Carolina
Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.)

  • David served in the Army for nearly three decades. He rose to the rank of commander of the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) and won several awards, including the Combat Infantryman Badge. He was also named a Distinguished Member of the 1st Special Forces Regiment. After retiring, David learned that only eight percent of veterans qualify for dental care under the Veterans Administration. In 2018, David founded the Veteran Smiles Foundation, which provides veterans in North Carolina with the quality dental care they deserve. Learn more about how the Veteran Smiles Foundation is giving back at vetsmiles.org.

Laura Jeanne
Mineola, Texas
Chief Warrant Officer 3, U.S. Army

  • As one of the U.S. Army’s first female pilots, Laura paved the way for women in aviation. Laura first served as a helicopter mechanic on her way to becoming a Blackhawk helicopter pilot. Over the course of her ten-year career, Laura completed tours in Germany and Saudi Arabia and served in the Desert Storm conflict. After a horseback riding accident in 2009, Laura became a paraplegic and worried she’d have to give up her passion of scuba diving. Instead, she helped to establish the Adapt-Able Foundation, which strives to show veterans the peaceful freedom scuba diving can provide. Through their dives, veterans find a sense of independence in underwater exploration, mental healing in the weightless underwater world, and form a community based on trust. To learn more about how the Adapt-Able Foundation is making SCUBA diving an inclusive experience, visit adapt-ablefoundation.org.

Mandy Hazelton
Kathleen, Georgia
Master Sergeant, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

  • Throughout her 20 years of service, Mandy served as a U.S. Air Force Medical Technician at bases throughout the United States and abroad in Afghanistan and Germany. By the end of her tenure, she had risen to Superintendent in the 78th Healthcare Operations Squadron. After returning home, Mandy knew she wanted to give back to veterans in her community and saw firsthand how difficult it was for her fellow female veterans to find mental health support, jobs, and housing. Mandy discovered Genesis Joy House, an organization on a mission to improve the quality of life for homeless female veterans. She jumped at the chance to volunteer with the program and become a board member, and volunteers her time to assist with public relations, marketing, and videography. Learn more about Genesis Joy House and their mission to aid female veterans at genesisjoyhouse.com.

Susan Wagner
Vail, Arizona
Senior Chief Corpsman Diver, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

  • Susan discovered a love of water early in life and realized a career in the U.S. Navy would allow her to pursue her passion. Throughout her 22 years of service, Susan was a key member of dive teams worldwide, including the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute, Seal Team Two, Naval Diving Training Center, Explosive Ordnance Group Two; and MDSU-2 Diving Salvage Unit-2, where she assisted with recovery efforts from the Space Shuttle Challenger. After retirement, Susan became a board member for Smiles for Veterans, an organization dedicated to providing affordable dental care to veterans not covered through the Veterans Administration. Learn more about Smiles for Veterans’ dental treatment initiatives at smilesforveterans.org.
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