News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Veterans program builds community in Sisters

When Sara Johnson, CEO, talks about the Mission 22 program that grew out of the suicide of a Green Beret who served with her husband, Magnus, her whole face glows with passion, dedication, and love for the program and all those it serves.

Magnus served as a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier (Green Beret) for eight years, including the invasion of Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan. His job involved the disposal of explosive ordnance, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for Exceptionally Meritorious Service.

Upon his discharge from active duty, Magnus didn’t expect his return to civilian life to be difficult. However, the short period allowed for debriefing to help him adjust, coupled with the loss of his military community left him struggling. The suicide of one of his close friends with whom he had served prompted Magnus to put his efforts into creating a national monument for those who have fallen in the war against veteran suicide.

The memorial is titled “Soaring” and is 22-feet tall and comprised of 22 colored steel leaves. This represents the number of veterans that were lost every day to suicide at the time it was built in 2013. The memorial is located in Nashville, Indiana, an area that is renowned for its beautiful fall leaves. People come from all over the world to visit this artist colony tucked into the hills of Southern Indiana.

The town was looking for a large-scale art piece for the center of town that was representative of their community. Mission 22 collaborated with them over the course of a year, and it was dedicated in 2014. Veterans and civilians worked together side-by-side on this public work of art.

Soaring creates social impact for veterans’ issues to over three million tourists who visit the area each year, with a plaque at the base where viewers can learn more and find out how they can support and get involved with the Mission as well.

There is another monument in Oklahoma, this one consisting of 20 steel plates each created in the likeness of a real American veteran who lost their battle with post-traumatic stress (PTS). These 20 men and women are a representation of those the country is losing every day to the battle here at home.

The creation of the memorials was the beginning of a national community supporting active service members, veterans, and their family members, through three areas of focus.

•?Support and treatment programs address PTS, traumatic brain injury (TBI), suicide risk, addiction, and other challenges.

•?Social-impact programs unite civilians and the military community to raise awareness of issues faced by active service members, veterans, and their family members.

•?Memorials are a way to remember and honor service members and veterans through large-scale installations and digital initiatives, while raising awareness for the issues veterans are facing today as well as educating communities on how to get involved. A partnership is formed between veterans working on the projects and the communities. A storytelling is created, which breaks down barriers so growth and healing can happen.

Sara met Magnus one week after his return from Afghanistan. For a year and a half she watched him struggle.

“It was heartbreaking to not be able to help him,” Sara remembered. When he wanted to create Mission 22, Sara was on board, creating their first website. Everything began slowly until 2015 when they did a social-media awareness campaign using hashtag #Mission22, which went viral. With support gained from sports teams, businesses, and other influential groups, there was a big influx of money and volunteers.

They now have volunteer ambassadors working to create impact in their communities across America. They host events, raise support and awareness, create dialog, and are saving lives every day by bringing veterans and communities together. In 2015 they had 705 volunteers; today they have almost 4,000.

Program headquarters started in Indiana and moved with the Johnsons to Portland for five years. According to Sara, Oregon is a state that has one of the highest percentages of veterans. One year ago the Johnson family came to Sisters, where they purchased the former Harmony Farm property on Perit Huntington Road.

The farm is the location of the Mission Troopers Equine Program, primarily designed for children ages 3 to 18, while supporting their whole family. They have 14 horses including several ponies. This summer they offered one-week summer equine camps. At the end of July, they had a family day for campers and their families, when the riders were able to display their horsemanship skills and families were able to gather in community.

Following a three-week break, lessons will resume this week, with small classes for individuals as well as up to four children. During the lessons, parents with veteran backgrounds gather to socialize and enjoy their common military bond. Children aged three and four will be a new addition, receiving one-on-one lessons on a pony with a special “little kids” saddle.

Equine Program Director and Head Trainer Karli Henderson is a PATH-certified therapeutic riding instructor who has expertise in working with children. According to the Mission 22 website, “Riding is proven to build self-confidence, improve coordination and balance, and increase focus.”

The program is available to the children and grandchildren of American veterans.

The Mission 22 office has been located in a small house on the farm, but they are outgrowing that space, so they recently purchased the FivePine Station office building on the FivePine campus. There are plans to build a studio in which to make their videos. Sara plans to launch podcasts based on “timeless principles of human resiliency.”

Sara told The Nugget they are delighted to be in Sisters.

“We’ve met more supportive people here in Sisters,” she said. “Our families here work as our volunteers at this point in time since we are working with children.”

About half of the current 30 children in the program come from the Sisters area, with the rest from Madras, Redmond, and Bend. Both Western and English riding are offered. There is also an obstacle course and a setup to practice roping.

For the equine program, there is no charge to the families. Mission 22 has an arrangement with Absolute Horse in Bend by which their students can pick out a helmet and pair of boots free of charge. As they progress in the program, students can earn points toward other riding clothes and gear.

For more information on the equine program or Mission 22 in general, contact [email protected] or call the main office Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 503-908-8505.

See related story at right.


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