A simple campus remodel has elevated into a poignant tribute to a University of Nebraska–Lincoln Air Force ROTC cadet.
Preparing for the revamp of the Air Force ROTC foyer on the second floor of the Pershing Military and Naval Sciences Building, Cadet and Wing Commander Zachary Ostrander reached out to Josie Svoboda to design a mural for the space. Over a couple of months, Svoboda, a sophomore forensic science major and resource management office for the Air Force ROTC program, decided to showcase the evolution of the recently-formed U.S. Space Force.
“As I kept working with the project, I realized it’s so much more than just dedicating something to the space force,” Svoboda said. “It’s looking at the history of the Air Force, it’s progression, it’s how we evolved over time from the Wright brothers’ plane to what we have today.”
After nailing down the idea, Svoboda acquired help from Cadet Hunter Rausch, a senior mechanical engineering major. Rausch made a digital file of Svoboda’s sketch and based it on historical significance.
With the design finalized, Anna Binder, a senior graphic design major, painted the mural on the foyer wall.
“This mural focuses on the progression of the Air Force from the Wright Flyer to the birth of the space force,” Binder said. “I painted these aircrafts into a fleet, flying across the plains of Nebraska. Each plane was skillfully crafted by those who fought through trails for a better future, just as we can fight through the current hardships of our country in hopes of a better future.”
When complete, the mural was initially dedicated to the campus Air Force ROTC detachment (No. 465). That changed after Alexander Kearns, a cadet and junior majoring in management, died by suicide on June 12. The loss left Kearns’ friends and cadets heartbroken.
Svoboda said cadets agreed the mural should be rededicated to honor Kearns’ passing and what he meant to the detachment.
“Dedicating this to Cadet Kearns was something we all thought would be a beautiful way to honor his memory,” Svoboda said. “He was a very good friend, he was someone that you never got tired of talking to, always put a smile on your face, always had a joke, he was just a beautiful soul and we really wanted to make his memory live on forever.”
Cadet Luke Heaton, who was a close friend, said Kearns always had an “open-mind, a kind heart and an honest opinion.”
“Alex and I shared a strong bond inside and outside of AFROTC. As roommates in Abel Hall, we ate meals together, worked out together at the Rec Center and had lot so deep discussions about various topics,” Heaton said. “In the AFROTC program, we were dedicated wingman, holding each other accountable to the standards expected of a future Air Force officer. Our friendship was strong, sincere and one I will cherish forever.”
While a perfect addition to the Military and Naval Science Building, the mural has grown to mean much more to the cadets who walk the halls daily.
“The dedication to Alex is a solemn reminder to stop and smell the roses every once in a while – to live in the moment and never take for granted the people in your life, as you never know how much longer you have with them,” Heaton said. “His name etched along the bottom edge of the F-22 Raptor canopy is a touching tribute and conveys just how much he meant to the 465 Cadet Wing.”