LUXUMBURG, Wis. (WFRV) A retired Air Force combat photographer is making her way around the country taking pictures of veterans for a unique project.
When Stacy Pearsall enlisted, she knew she wanted to do something in the arts.
“I applied for one of the coveted positions at the 1st Combat Camera Squadron in Charleston, South Carolina,” she said. “I knew that’s what I really wanted to do.”
She was accepted and would later be attached to Army Infantry units while in Iraq, capturing the images of what was taking place.
“By day, I would be covering a school rebuilding,” she explained. “By night, we’d be looking for what we called face cards at the time – all the bad guys that we still had not swooped up from Saddam’s regime.”
Her pictures would be used by the President’s joint Chief of Staffs and media outlets all over the country.
“[In order] to help disseminate what exactly was happening on the battle space,” she said.
However in 2004 at the age of 24, Stacy would face a battle of her own after an IED went off and injured her.
“I sustained a traumatic brain injury and spine trauma that day from which I recovered adequately enough to go back in service, which is all I really wanted to do,” she said.
But in 2007 she was back in Iraq, and her crew got caught up in a firefight. She went to rescue a wounded soldier, when two IEDs went off.
“I had exasperated the injuries I had already sustained in previous deployments and previous IEDs,” she said. “That was ultimately what ended my career.”
Stacy was retired in 2010 and had to fight another battle, this time at home.
“As a young women, I was 28-years-old. I would go to the VA and feel completely out of place,” she said. “I thought about suicide quite a bit. Between the physical pain and the emotional traumas, it was just overwhelming.”
While she was recovering and surrounded by veterans at the VA from all different branches and generations, Stacy knew she had to follow her passion to help with the healing process.
“I started bringing my camera to the hospital and taking portraits as i waited for my appointments,” she said.
Feeling that it was her way to honor veterans, and regain the military camaraderie she had lost.
“I felt renewed, like I had a renewed sense of purpose,” she said. “I realized I didn’t need to wear a uniform to serve. Each veteran that was validating my service, in turn I was validating theirs and thanking them with the only tool that I could return, which was photography.
“I set a crazy goal that I would photograph veterans in every state, thinking it would be a lifetime endeavor. Something to keep one foot in front of the other. Something to keep me from thinking about the alternative.”
And that’s when the Veterans Portrait Project was born.
“Here I am 11 years later, over 8,000 veterans that I’ve met across the nation, in my 48th state Wisconsin, and nearing the finish line,” she said. “I think the Veterans Portrait Project is a testament to the healing process of commuting with other people.”
The veterans and their families have that same feeling.
“They’re like, ‘I don’t know, I’m gonna break your camera. You sure you want to take my picture?’ But then when we sit down and have a conversation, it’s about two veterans connecting and the picture is just a byproduct of that.
“The loved ones are like, ‘you caught him or her perfectly, that’s so them!’ I’m like, ‘I know.’ It’s because I’m just talking to a brother or sister [and] that’s them in that moment.”
Stacy only has two more states to go until her project is complete. She encourages everyone to check out all the pictures of the veterans from the dozens of cities she has visited. You can check out her website by clicking here.
You can follow Stacy on her social media platforms, and get to know all about her service dog – Charlie! The 3 1/2-year-old black lab has been with Stacy the past two years as her right hand man. He helps her cope with her PTSD and other issues, as well as assisting her with taking pictures.
Charlie was donated to Stacy through America’s VetDogs.
- Twitter: @VetPortraits
- Facebook: @VeteransPortraits
- Instagram: @Veterans_Portrait_Project