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The Meaning Behind Nashville’s Iconic “Soaring” Sculpture & Mission 22

Featured Guest Blogpost by Karah Shaffer of Mission 22

‘Soaring’. A 22-foot-tall swirl of 22 steel maple leaves, painted in the fall colors that draw visitors to Brown County every autumn. The structure celebrates our county’s beauty, and it’s also a marker of a much bigger mission. Imagined and then built by Veterans and civilians who collaborated to design and install the project, it marked the first public art project by nonprofit arts group Elder Heart, founded by Army Veteran and Special Forces Operators Magnus Johnson and Mike Kissel. Its completion underscores the importance of cooperation among civilians and the military in local communities, and in particular calls attention to the VA-published statistic that 22 Veterans per day take their own lives after returning home from combat.

The sculpture was dedicated in 2014, and was just the beginning of what has in seven years become a national push for local communities to support enlisted service members, Veterans, and military families. The work of Elder Heart has grown from an organization that built art installations to call attention to Veterans’ issues, to a full-fledged support organization. The transformation came about via a donated nationally syndicated charitable marketing campaign, and Elder Heart now operates under the name Mission 22.

A loyal community of over 3,500 Veteran and civilian volunteers operating in all 50 states have become the foundation of Mission 22’s success, raising awareness of the issues Veterans and their families face once they return home, including mental health challenges, recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), and Military Sexual Assault (MST). These volunteers are known as Mission 22 Ambassadors, and in addition to being resources and knowledge bases for Veterans and military families, they also raise funds to support the organization’s operations and program development.

The programs Mission 22 has developed in the years since ‘Soaring’ was dedicated are meant to be comprehensive health and mental wellness support for Veterans and their families. Recovery + Resiliency, Mission 22’s flagship program, is a tiered program for Veterans and their spouses that combines timeless principles of human healing with modern science. The introductory course, R+R Elements, is a free virtual self-guided 28-day program open to everyone interested in science-based wellness (civilians included). Mission 22 also offers long-term intensive programs for combat Veterans, those who were injured and therefore could not deploy, those who have experienced MST, and spouses of Veterans.

This Veterans Day, we’re reflecting on how high we have been able to soar. Mission 22 CEO Sara Johnson says, “Our organization has become a support pillar for Veterans and military families because of the opportunities afforded by Brown County when we were just getting started.” Currently there are more than 300 individuals receiving support through Mission 22’s programs, and our Ambassadors have cultivated local communities supporting Veterans all around the country.  We are grateful to Nashville and to Brown County for continued support. 

“Soaring by Elder Heart” T-shirts are available for purchase online or at the Brown County Visitors Center. Portion of proceeds go to Mission 22. Various sizes and colors available.

For more information on Mission 22’s programs, to become an Ambassador, or to support the organization, please visit www.mission22.com.

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