The Stronghold Freedom Foundation utilizes awareness and partnerships to serve those who were exposed to toxic conditions while deployed in the service of our country.

Our Vision

The Stronghold Freedom Foundation was founded to address the toxic exposures of military veterans who were deployed to Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. The Foundation's mission is to bring awareness to the long-term effects of exposure to toxins that were unknown at the time. We do this by raising awareness of the dangers our veterans were exposed to in their daily lives. The Foundation then utilizes strategic partnerships to help veterans deal with the effects of those exposures.

Radiation Sign K2 PJ


  • 9/11/2001

    Terrorists attack the US

  • 2001

    US Forces arrive at K2

  • 2005

    The last US Troops Leave K2

  • 2012

    Mike West and PJ Widener form the Facebook group

  • 2013

    Mike West dies from K2 related cancer

  • 2019

    Tara Copp writes her first article on K2

  • Feb 2020

    HR 5957 is introduced by Rep Mark Green and Rep Stephen Lynch

  • March 2020

    Stronghold Freedom Foundation becomes a 501(c)3

  • July 2020

    Additional legislation is introduced

  • Jan 2021

    Section 751 of the 2021 NDAA includes K2 language

  • Jan 2021

    Section 2010 of HR 7105 includes K2 language

  • Jan 2021

    President Trump signs Executive Order 13982

  • Feb 2021

    HR 1355/S 454 is introduced 

  • August 2022

    PACT Act Increases presumptive toxic exposure illnesses. 

Our Board and Executive Director

Board Chair


Advocacy Director

Mark T. Jackson is a K2 veteran and is the former Acting Executive Director and current Advocacy Director at the Stronghold Freedom Foundation. Mark has been with SFF since before its inception and has served in various capacities. He provided written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, worked with various committees to declassify documents related to the toxins at K2, drafted an Executive Order, provided input to Congress for bills related to K2, ensured Uzbekistan was added to the CFR, and continues to work closely with the national media. Mark is a father of two and grandfather of three. In his spare time, Mark enjoys ultramarathons, long-distance cycling, surfing, kayaking, and yoga, among other active pursuits.

Executive Director

Matt Erpelding's Headshot

Executive Director

Mr. Matthew Erpelding is a 1998 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy with an MBA degree in International Business from Trident University and an Executive MBA from William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. He distinguished himself during his Air Force career leaving the service as a Senior Pilot and completing multiple deployments as a C-130 crewmember. He was “boots on the ground” at K2, arriving in early December 2001. His deployment ended in March 2002, but he continued to travel through and stay at K2 over the next 3 years on multiple deployments. He brings more than 25 years of dynamic leadership, combining successful defense and commercial experience to create strategic partnerships that turn into profitable and innovative outcomes. He is Senior Manager of Business Development and Strategy in the defense sector. In their free time, Matt, and his wife Christina enjoys traveling, exploring the DMV, Texas BBQ, culinary adventures, and American whiskey.

Board Member

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Deputy Director, Special Projects and Fundraising

Natalie business owner, mother of a miracle little girl, and the surviving spouse of T. Sgt. Clayton White who deployed to K2 immediately after 9/11 with the USAF 919th. He never woke from his 41st birthday, missing the birth of his baby girl by 2 months. Natalie has been volunteering with SFF since just before it became a 501c3 in early 2020. She joined the board in January 2021 and currently serves as the Deputy Director while working on fundraising, special projects, administration, and the reunion. She both cared for and advocated for Clayton during his countless illnesses, both chronic and acute, and painstakingly watched him suffer through a litany of health issues post-deployment. She continues to advocate for him and his fellow K2 veterans through her volunteer work with SFF. She wants to do what she can to ensure all K2 vets get the treatment and recognition they deserve for their sacrifices. She has a Bachelors in Project Management and Acquisitions with a Masters in Contract Management and Acquisitions.

Board Member

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Outreach and Partnership Director

Is an educator, the mother of four children, and the surviving spouse of LTC Timothy P. Brooks who had served under General Hagenbeck as his Battle Major in Operation Anaconda. Tim died of an aggressive brain tumor in May 2004 after spending time at K2 in its early operational days. She testified about her husband’s death alongside PJ Widener and Scott Welsch before the House and Oversight Reform Committee in February 2020. She then joined SFF as a volunteer and eventually as a Board Member and the Care Team and Outreach Director. Kim's goals were to expand the Care and Support Team so that every member of our community feels supported in their fight for recognition for their illnesses and is given the care and benefits that they deserve. She currently serves in many capacities as Outreach and Partnership Director.

Board Member


Governmental Affairs Director

Steve began working with Mark Jackson on legislation and continues as the Government Affairs Director in his capacity on the Board. Currently, he is the POC for the Yale Law Team. He was deployed to K2 around 2005 as a C-130 Navigator and retired from military service in 2016 after 28 years of service. While he continues as an airline pilot, he enjoys scuba diving, cycling, and "just a little bit of punning." He has 3 goals while serving on the Board: to continue SFF legislative work, increase updates to our cohort, and be available and responsive to questions.

Board Member


Care and Support Team Director

Daryl is a K2 surviving spouse. Her husband, Rich Riddle, was an LTC with AF Spec Ops. He flew into K2 in November 2003 with the 8th Special Operations Squadron. When he returned, he told Daryl that he wanted to keep his K2 set of orders as he felt that “something” would come of his time there. Little did they know that “something” would be stage 3 pancreatic cancer and also a second primary cancer of the brain. In June 2020, he died bravely, as only our warriors can. During his illness, he became involved with helping the Stronghold Freedom Foundation and continued right up until his death. She has been an RN since 1978 working Med Surg, ER, Mobile Intensive Care, AF Reserve Flight Nurse (at McGuire AFB where she met Rich), Home Health, Developmentally Disabled, PreOp, Recovery, and finally Radiology.  Daryl joined the SFF organization in October 2020, initially just listening and learning and then helping. Daryl is now the Director of the Care and Support Team for SFF. She has completed the NVLSP  introductory course to Veterans' Law and Advocacy which focuses on helping veterans and families get the benefits that they need from the VA.

Board Member

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Al is an attorney, the father of four children, the former Special Advisor to the Acting Secretary of Defense, and a retired U.S. Army Judge Advocate.  During his 23 year career as a judge advocate, he provided legal support to Special Operations Forces and the 82nd Airborne Division. He served on multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He recently completed a National Security Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School focusing on U.S. policy options for Syria. During his tenure with the Acting Secretary of Defense he coordinated the staffing and issuance of the Executive Order on Care Of Veterans With Service In Uzbekistan. He serves in a variety of volunteer capacities supporting Veterans and their families.

Join Our Team

We can always use the help of talented volunteers to help us further the mission of the Stronghold Freedom Foundation. If you are interested please contact us.