National Veterans Memorial and Museum's Wellness Weekend includes six public events and highlights current exhibition
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus this weekend hosts several public events created to promote physical and mental wellness. It all begins Friday August 5 with a tour of the The Twenty-Year War: Our Next Greatest Generation led by the exhibition's creators.
The exhibition shares the diverse experiences of Veterans who served the Global War on Terror. It's based on The Twenty-Year War book released in 2021 for the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Co-author and exhibition co-creator Dan Blakeley.
"We wanted to tell the story of why these people served, what their transition was like coming out of service, and then what are they doing now," co-author and exhibition co-creator Dan Blakeley said. "The unique thing that we learned throughout that process is that every Veteran who was inspired to serve is still inspired to continue to serve. They're serving in unique ways whether that's being entrepreneurs, actors, doctors, working at non-profits - just doing all kinds of different things to just help other people and give back and really lean on that selfless service that they learned in the military."
The story that affects him the most - Tonya Griffin-Oxendine, who served 30 years in the Army and became a Command Sergeant Major.
"She had every reason to stop serving multiple times, being a Black woman amongst the ranks with many barriers in her way early in her career and childhood," Blakeley continued. "But she wanted to continue to serve. You see that in her portrait, but you also learn what she's doing now. She's trying to figure out how to give back and help other Veterans and other women who've gone through the same things she has."
The most common theme Blakeley found through each Veteran's story - the difficult transition from service to civilian life. Blakeley and his co-author Tom Amenta have hosted online transition talks with Veterans in the book, including Sophie Hilaire. Born in Cleveland, Hilaire spent six years in the U.S. Army, becoming a captain. Her transition out of service included earning an MBA and working for a consulting firm. But the last couple years, she's been living full-time in her Sprinter van named Sage learning about farming and connecting with nature. Her message to fellow Veterans - it's never too late to re-write your story.
"I knew that I needed some time to deprogram from that set of values - the idea of making more money, the mortgage, the family that looks exactly like it should," Hilaire said. "When I realized I was trying so hard to check all those boxes, I was actually trying really hard to hold onto things that made me absolutely miserable whether it be relationships or my own life. Every day of the week wasn't fun or fulfilling to me. I ended up in the van, and this lifestyle helped open my eyes. A lot of the stuff out here is actually more authentic to me, and it was things I was excited about. Not only that but if I define success differently, I could actually be really excited about being successful in these other roads."
Several large scale portraits of Veterans, including Hilaire, line the wall of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum's exhibition space, and a QR code allows guests to learn more about their stories. Museum director Andy Cloyd says this first museum-curated exhibition could become a touring presentation.
"It's exciting for us because the artists and authors did the work, and we just kind of put some life into it and said let's make it larger than this book," National Veterans Memorial and Museum director Andy Cloyd said. "We could travel this like other museums have travelling exhibitions and take it on the road. So it's here until October. Then probably early spring or winter of 2023, we'll announce where it'll be in 2023. There would be a fee for it to travel, but that fee would go back to help our museum programming and United Valor, the non-profit the book's creators set up."
The museum hosts a series of events this weekend. Blakeley, Twenty Year War co-author Tom Amenta, and photographer Beau Simmons will lead a tour of the exhibition Friday afternoon at 4. It's included with tickets to the “Scars and Stripes” discussion.