President – Don Christensen, Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)
Don Christensen, Colonel, USAF (Ret.) served as chief prosecutor for the United States Air Force between 2010 and 2014. He served as a trial counsel, defense counsel or military judge for every year of his 23-year career in the United States Air Force.
Christensen has served as an Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, Area Defense Counsel, Circuit Defense Counsel, Deputy Chief Circuit Defense Counsel, and Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, as a deployed Staff Judge Advocate, Chief Circuit Trial Counsel, and Staff Judge Advocate and as a Military Judge. He has tried over 150 courts-martial as a trial and defense counsel and has presided over 100 trials as a military judge.
He was born in Sturgis, South Dakota and received his law degree from Marquette University Law School. A third generation Air Force officer, he received his commission as a second lieutenant through ROTC and entered active service on 15 July 1991. Christensen is licensed to practice law before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Christensen has received numerous awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Achievement Medal.
Program and Policy Director – Miranda Petersen
Miranda Petersen is the Programs and Policy Director for Protect Our Defenders Foundation, an advocacy organization dedicated to fundamentally reforming the U.S. military’s systems related to the issue of rape and sexual assault. As Policy Director, Miranda works with like-minded organizations, survivors and retired and active duty senior officers to develop policies to improve and reform the Uniform Code of Military Justice pertaining to rape, sexual assault, and harassment.As Program Director, Miranda manages POD’s Peer Support and Pro Bono Network, to connect service members who have been raped or sexually assaulted with legal representation, advice and assistance.
Prior to joining Protect Our Defenders, Miranda spent two years as the paralegal for attorney Susan Burke in Washington, D.C., where she worked on several historic lawsuits against the Department of Defense filed on behalf of military sexual assault survivors who experienced abuse and retaliation after reporting. The cases are the subject of the documentary film The Invisible War. Before coming to Washington, D.C., Miranda worked as an organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation. She earned her B.A. from the University of California Los Angeles in Psychology and Women’s Studies, and is currently working towards her J.D. at Georgetown University.
Communications Director – Brian Purchia
Brian Purchia is the Communications Director for Protect Our Defenders and has been with the organization since its launch. Described by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark as “genuinely innovative,” Brian has served as a new media adviser and spokesman for former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Change.org, Green For All and other social change organizations. Brian was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as Newsom’s “go-to guy for social media” for his implementation of a groundbreaking new media strategy called “gutsy” and “brilliant” on NPR.
In Newsom’s new book Citizenville, the current Lt. Gov. of California says, “as I started my second term as San Francisco Mayor I was dismayed as how far behind we still were technologically. Police cars weren’t equipped for email. City websites weren’t set up to take meaningful feedback online. We were surrounded by some of the best and brightest minds technology, but were still operating as though we were in a time warp. I hired a former Voice of America reporter named Brian Purchia as my new media director and asked him if he could figure out how to fix this problem. That was the beginning of a two-year period in which we transformed our city government. We started digitizing, mashing up, and opening up everything we possibly could — far beyond what I had initially imagined when I brought Brian in.”
Brian is recognized as a “Gov 2.0” leader for his work to improve civic engagement by making government more accessible through tapping into the power of social media. Before working in government and for social change organizations, Brian worked in media, as a reporter in Washington, DC.
Advocacy and Development Director – Jennifer Wells
Jennifer Wells is the Advocacy and Development Director for Protect Our Defenders and has worked with the organization since its founding. Jennifer has a Masters in Public Health from Columbia University, with a concentration in population mental health. Her research in Columbia’s Department of Epidemiology focused on traumatic stress among women and state policies on mental health. She has also worked with University of Illinois-Chicago in the Department of Psychiatry as a research assistant.
Previously Jennifer worked in social issue documentary film and non-profit development. She served as a media producer for Interchange Productions, including on the film Radical Grace (in production). For In the Family, an Emmy-nominated documentary about hereditary breast cancer, she led the national outreach campaign with Kartemquin Films. Jennifer received her B.A. from American University in Washington, D.C.
Program and Policy Associate – Yelena Tsilker
Yelena Tsilker is the Program and Policy Associate at Protect Our Defenders. She is responsible for coordinating intakes and follow-up on the Pro Bono Network in order to meet the legal and casework needs of survivors of military sexual trauma. She also provides support to POD’s policy reform and advocacy efforts.
Previously, Yelena served with AmeriCorps for two years as a youth worker in Boston, MA, and she has also also worked as a research assistant in psychology. Yelena graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in Psychology and is currently working towards a Master of Public Policy at George Washington University.
Communications Manager – Max Wertheimer
Max comes to Protect Our Defenders with experience in communications, social media, and public policy. He has previously worked in the Office of Government Affairs for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Max has also worked at Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations firm, specializing in crisis communications. Throughout his career, Max has worked for political campaigns, advocacy organizations, government agencies, technology companies, labor unions, law firms, and telecommunications companies.