Air Force Veteran Photographing 7.500 Vets In All 50 States

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Stacy Pearsall earned the Bronze Star and Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor while serving as a combat photographer in Iraq. Before her tour of duty was up, she was traumatized by a roadside bomb.

Now, the retired Air Force sergeant is once again turning har lens towards American service members. She intends to photograph more than 7,500 military veterans in all 50 states.

“People think veterans are statuesque, unbreakable and impenetrable,” Pearsall told Task and Purpose. “I want people to realize that in every uniform is a human being with a heart and a soul, people they love, history and baggage. I want every veteran to know they’re thanked.”


Pearsall’s “Veterans Portrait Project” first began as a way for her to confront the pain that lingered from her own service. Photography has proven therapeutic for the veteran, and helped her connect with thousands of others around the country.

They’re all different, Pearsall says, but they share a few traits.


“Combat veterans tend to withhold a lot from others,” Pearsall said. “Their experiences have injured them and they don’t want to project that injury on others.”


It’s that trepidation that would ordinarily hold some veterans back from sharing the “sights, sounds, smells, memories and feelings of unworthiness” that often accompany military service, Pearsall says. In those cases, Pearsall’s service dog Charlie attends every shoot, providing comfort and friendliness to the photographer and her subjects.

By Veterans’ Day 2019, Pearsall intends to have visited all 50 states, taking pictures of at least 7,500 American veterans of various wars and conflicts. One of those veterans was Francisco Lopez, a former Army combat medic who served in the Vietnam War, where he earned a Bronze Star for heroism, and a Purple Heart for taking shrapnel in an explosion.

The vet opened up when Pearsall asked him about his experiences as a medic, and kept the conversation going even after the shoot was over.

“I was in combat for 10 months,” he said. “In a while, all your emotions are gone. You don’t complain. Your friends die and you don’t feel anything. Back in civilian life, those emotions are still pretty low.”

Lopez’ photos will be included in the Veterans Portrait Project, but at least one has a special purpose. It will be presented to Lopez’ granddaughter.

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@usarmy Colonel Edward Henderson is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which is located in Central Oregon. The Wasco, Paiute and Tenino tribes gave up 10,000,000 acres they’d inhabited for 10,000 years. As part of the 1855 treaty, Henderson’s people retained fishing and hunting rights on their former lands which is located around the Deschutes River and Cascade Mountains. Many like Henderson come home to partake in these rights. He happened to be home on leave when the #veteransportraitproject visited the Warm Springs Reservation. [ @nikonusa Photo by @slpearsall ] #nikonlove #nikkor #nikonnofilter #nativeamerican #warmsprings #oregon #photography #portraitphotography #veteran #army #infantry #civilaffairs

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@usarmy veteran Delphine Metcalf-Foster joined the service alongside her daughter. While in basic training at Ft. Jackson, Delphine’s daughter came to her and said, “The Army isn’t for me.” But that did not dissuade Delphine from completing her objective. Over the course of her 20-year #Army career, she served as medic, personnel and transportation. After leading her troops to Desert Storm and back, she retired as an E-8! That wasn’t all. She became the first female National Commander elected by the @davhq #womenempowerment #womenveterans #femaleveteran #veteransportraitproject #vpp #nikonlove #nikonnofilter #nikkor #nikkor70_200mm #nikkor105mm #nikond850 [ @nikonusa Photo by @slpearsall ]

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By Veterans’ Day this November, former combat photographer Stacy Pearsall will have traveled to all 50 states, snapping stark black-and-white portraits of more than 7,500 military veterans.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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