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Stacy Pearsall: Veteran Photographer Explores Life 'After Action'


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Stacy Pearsall got her start as an Air Force photographer at the age of 17. During her time in service, she traveled to over 41 countries, and attended the Military Photojournalism Program at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University from which she is a 50 Forward distinguished graduate. During three combat tours, she earned the Bronze Star Medal and Air Force Commendation with Valor for combat actions in Iraq.

This week on Watching America, Pearsall speaks with host Dr. Alan Campbell about her military career and the struggles she had transitioning back into civilian life.

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“The military taught me everything I needed to know to thrive in service, but I wasn’t given a handbook on how to become a civilian again,” Pearsall explained. “Simply hanging up my uniform did not mean I packed up years of conditioning, life-changing, sometimes traumatizing, experiences at the same time. I struggled to reconnect with those around me, even my family.”

Pearsall began the Veterans Portrait Project (VPP) in 2008 while recovering from combat injuries she’d sustained in Iraq. While spending hours in VA waiting rooms surrounded by veterans from every generation and branch of service, she was compelled to honor and thank them in the only way she knew how—photography.

Through this project she seeks to share the unique stories of military veterans and honor their service in a unique, creative way. Each veteran receives a complimentary, high-resolution portrait they can share with friends and family. Their portraits and stories are also included in national printed exhibitions, showcased in video productions and shared via social media, thus ensuring their contributions to American military history are never lost. Since 2008, she’s traveled coast to coast with the VPP covering 82 cities in all 50 states and has documented over 7,500 veterans in over 189+ engagements.

She says the VPP has been an emotionally cathartic, physically healing tool. She had committed her life to her country, and when she could no longer serve in uniform, the VPP became an extension of her service.

In another project that seeks to creatively share the stories of America’s veterans, Pearsall served as host of a new documentary series from PBS, After Action. In each episode, she interviews veterans who have had a range of experiences during their military service from brushes with death to sexual trauma. They discuss with her the trials of returning home after combat.

Pearsall said the series is important to her because on her own healing journey, she found that talking with other vets helped her. They were able to understand and relate to her experiences.

“I guarded my secrets and carried my burden until I nearly broke,” Pearsall explained. “Thankfully through talking with other veterans, I realized I wasn’t alone in my struggle. That validation was enough to keep me going. I found conversations amongst fellow veterans to be easier, no translation required. It was then, After Action was conceived – a round table where veterans tell-all. A series that explores the many complex challenges every veteran faces after action.”

She hopes the series will show veterans they are not alone and help family members understand some of the complexities of returning home after military service.

“For those who’ve served, I hope they will discover there’s an army of people who are on the same journey home. And for those who are waiting for their veterans to find their way, this show may help illuminate the path.”

Watch After Action online at PBS.org/AfterAction.

Find Stacy Pearsall at her website or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Listen to the interview.

About the Film:

Hosted by Air Force combat veteran Stacy Pearsall, After Action reveals the experiences of 21 diverse veterans from across the country. Conversations about life before, during and after action provide a deeper appreciation for those who’ve served. The documentary series features seven, one-hour episodes.

WHRO Passport members can stream all seven episodes of After Action on WHRO Passport.

Episode 1: Host Stacy Pearsall sits down with three veterans who’ve all had brushes with death. Episode 2: Host Stacy Pearsall sits down with three veterans who used to transform new recruits. Episode 3: Host Stacy Pearsall sits down with three veterans who have a connection to citizenship. Episode 4: Host Stacy Pearsall sits down with three veterans who were the first women in their fields. Episode 5: Host Stacy Pearsall sits down with three veterans who’ve experienced military sexual trauma. Episode 6: Host Stacy Pearsall sits down with three veterans who reveal the power of service animals. Episode 7: Host Stacy Pearsall sits down with three veterans who reveal the trials of returning home.