Mission 22 stands united in the war against veteran suicide

Elizabeth Howe
September 11, 2018 - 2:40 pm

Photo courtesy of Mission 22

Magnus Johnson, founder of Mission 22, learned about the prevalence of veteran suicide in the hardest way possible. 

"He thought, being a man and a Green Beret, that everything was going to be fine. That he would get out no problem and just go along his merry way. And that wasn't the case," said Sara Johnson, CEO of Mission 22 and Magnus's wife. "A guy he served with talked him through that year, was someone that Magnus could reach out to. He was so grateful to have this support, and then one day he got a phone call. That veteran had hung himself."

"He had never once mentioned to Magnus that he was having trouble, that anything was going on. No one saw it coming. Just out of the blue, he took his life. It hit Magnus like a steamroller."

Magnus Johnson fell into a dark depression following the suicide of his fellow service member, mentor and friend — until he decided it was time to do something about the war against veteran suicide. 

"Back then in 2012, people weren't really talking about veteran suicide," Sara Johnson said. "It wasn't national news, the push-up challenge hadn't happened, the VA was coming out with reports but they weren't really being publicized. Magnus's thinking was, 'If I'm a veteran and I don't know about this, how can we expect anyone else to.'"

Soaring was the first project that Magnus Johnson took on in an effort to raise awareness about veteran suicide. Nashville, Indiana is an artist colony and tourist attraction known for its fall leaves — 3 million toursists visit per year. And now, those 3 million will see Soaring, a 22-foot tall memorial made of 22 steel cut leaves built entirely by veterans and members of the community. 

Photo courtesy of Mission 22

"What was amazing was while this was being built, people were stopping. Veterans that were involved with building it were talking, sharing their stories. This beautiful thing was happening right before our eyes," Sara Johnson said. "It was more than we ever could have hoped for. Then we realized — where do we go from here."

Mission 22 was born.

It started as an awareness campaign with a mission similar to that of the original project: raising awareness, letting the country know that there was an ongoing battle on American soil — and American service members were losing.

"It was meant to be just that — an awareness campaign. Just to get the word out. What happened was a tidal wave," Sara Johnson said. "I think Mission 22, the name, was so easily understandable. The wording was really clear, and it just clicked for people. So what started as an awareness campaign turned into this national movement." 

That awareness campaign has grown to include 3,000 mission ambassadors, countless company partnerships, gyms across the country and its own comprehensive treatment program. The Warrior Integration Now (WIN) program aims to eliminate the symptoms of trauma by identifying underlying physiological and psychological imbalances. 

"We've found that when we have veterans come in with PTS there are very clear things that are going on in their bodies," Sara Johnson said. "We believe that PTS is a physiological response to war that creates psychological imbalances as well, and if you fix what's going on inside their body then you can help heal their mind. And with this program we have almost a 100 percent success rate."

Of course, Mission 22 has never lost sight of its original mission. Awareness of veteran suicide in the United States is still one of the biggest problems that Mission 22 aims to eradicate. In addition to Soaring, Mission 22 partnered with photographer David Guttenfelder on a photo project highlighting the war against suicide on the homefront. They also established the War at Home Memorial.

"For veterans, there are so many people out there that want to support them," said Sara Johnson. "Just reach out. All you have to do is just do that first step. Reach out and talk to somebody, whether it's us, whether it's another company, there are so many resources now that weren't there before. There's a community out there ready to love you. You just have to make that first step."

If you’re a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one, there are helpful, qualified VA responders standing by to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. VA Crisis Line call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. 

 Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com.