Inside the Gates: Veterans Portrait Project
Stacy Pearsall was internationally known for her war photography. In 2008, she was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq, ending her military career. The South Carolina-native found herself facing down 18 months of rehabilitation and trying to find her new path in life.
"All I had ever known was being a combat photographer in the Air Force," Pearsall said. "One day, while at the hospital, I was met by a World War II veteran who started telling me about his story, and I felt inspired to take his portrait and write down his story-- and the rest is history."
The man's name was Mason "Mickey" Dorsey.
And, since that first portrait, Pearsall created the Veterans Portrait Project. Its mission is to share the unique stories of military veterans and to honor their service.
"I committed my life to my country," Pearsall said. "When I could no longer serve in uniform, this became my new mission."
Over the past decade, Pearsall has conducted more than 100 portrait engagements, traveled to more than 65 cities and 27 states. Her stop in Alaska this week marks her twenty-eighth state.
"My goal is to capture portraits of veterans in every state," Pearsall said. "After I hit all 50, I'd like to make a book-- but I won't stop taking pictures, I'll still be doing that."
Nineteen-year Air Force veteran Dahlia Garcia-- still serving on active duty on JBER-- appreciates Pearsall's effort.
"You take for granted what you do," Garcia said. "I've deployed twice and have many pictures of that, but I never just thought to really think about what it is, in fact, that I do, and that is serve the community, and of course, serve my country. Honor God and country."
Garcia says she doesn't have a lot of photos of herself in uniform, and after hearing about the event from another service member, she decided this opportunity would be a good one to acquire a keepsake for later.
"I think we get caught up in the day-to-day," Garcia said. "Until someone brings up what we do, you don't stop to think about taking pictures. I love that Stacy captures the realness of people and their stories. I think everybody has a story and everybody has a great story."
Rhiannon Willard also was a photographer in the Air Force and remembers going to school with Pearsall 20 years ago.
"I went to photography school with Stacy," Willard said. "So, I've been following her career and following this project she's been doing across the states and was really excited to see that she was coming to Alaska to do it. It's amazing and a great thing to do for the veterans."
Pearsall still feels some of the effects from her time in Iraq. Making her journey a little longer than expected.
"About two years ago, I had a grand mal seizure," Pearsall said. "It's from traumatic brain injury, and so, I decided to apply for a service dog through America's Vet Dogs. I was on the wait list, like most disabled veterans, and was awarded Charlie six months ago."
Charlie offers Stacy mobility, counterbalance and hearing support.
"I am hearing-impaired in the right ear," Pearsall said. "Charlie also does many other tasks, and he is an amazing asset and part of my team."
Pearsall will head to Fairbanks this weekend for another portrait shoot on Sunday, June 10. If any veterans are interested, you can RSVP here.
You may also view her portraits and read veterans stories, as well as her own, on her website.
Each veteran receives a complimentary portrait they can share with friends and family. Portraits and stories are also posted on Stacy's website, in national printed exhibitions, video productions and on social media. She makes her way from state to state with donations and the help of airline miles.
"Due to health concerns, I'd like to get to the other 22 states in the next three years," Pearsall said. "At that point, I can slow down a little bit. I'm going to go with the flow and whatever happens, happens. This is just a nice way for me to say thank you to all the veterans."
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