Combat photographer to compete in Warrior Games

  • Published
  • By Maj. Belinda Petersen
  • Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs
Not once, but twice. Twice, in 2004 and 2007, a combat photographer who was assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., was wounded in Iraq.

It was her combat wounds in 2007 that caused retired Staff Sgt. Stacy Pearsall to give up her dream as a combat photographer portraying the lives of Airmen.

While on active duty Sergeant Pearsall won the Military Photographer of the Year award twice. She is one of only two women to win the Department of Defense-wide competition and the only woman to earn it twice.

Sergeant Pearsall incurred injuries that led to partial hearing loss and neurological problems that trigger severe arm and neck pain and numbness across the upper right side of her body.

Since her injury in 2007, Sergeant Pearsall has been to more than 150 physical therapy appointments, 30 prolotherapy procedures, six vertigo treatments, five right-ear evaluations, four CT scans, two MRI's and countless other medical appointments.

Even though she still suffers from pain, her doctors recently cleared her to participate in the Warrior Games scheduled May 10 through 14 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Wounded, ill and injured active-duty Guard and Reserve members, as well as retired servicemembers and veterans from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard will compete in the Warrior Games hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee's Paralympic Military Program at the Olympic Training Center.

As a combat photographer, Sergeant Pearsall served three tours in Iraq. Sergeant Pearsall was recognized for her heroic actions under fire twice and earned the Bronze Star and the Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor.

The night of her last injury Sergeant Pearsall's convoy was traveling when the vehicle in front of her exploded due to an improvised explosive device.

While she manned the 2.40 caliber machine gun on the vehicle, members in her vehicle ran out to recover the wounded and dead when they were ambushed and struck by a rocket propelled grenade.

Instinctively, Sergeant Pearsall ran out to retrieve the wounded when all of a sudden she was knocked off of her feet.

The helmet she was wearing to communicate with the rest of the convoy had a communications cord attached to the vehicle. When she ran towards the wounded, the cord tightened and she fell back on her head and neck.

"That is when I tore all of the muscles and tendons in my neck," Sergeant Pearsall said. "My neck was already messed up because of previous IED explosions."

"Thank God for adrenaline," she said. "I only felt a burning sensation, so I ripped off the helmet and carried the guy back to my vehicle."

While Sergeant Pearsall is no longer a combat photographer, she is still using her talents to raise awareness for disabled Airmen's and veterans' issues.

After spending a tremendous amount of time at the Veterans Affairs hospital, retirement home and homeless shelter in her home of Charleston, she started bringing along her camera and creating portraits of veterans she met.

She has amassed a collection of 350 portraits that will go on display next month at the Charleston Veterans Administration as part of a fundraiser.

She has also been involved with veterans' advocacy efforts including the Wounded Warrior Project.

At the Warrior Games Sergeant Pearsall will participate in the shooting and track events.

Even though running is physically painful for her she's inspired to run for those who died or were wounded and can no longer run themselves.

"I run for Spc. Trussel, Cpl. Nguyen, Spc. Russell, Spc. Camacho, Sgt. Ross, Sgt. Shaw, Capt. Belser, and Sgt. Robinson," she said.

Sergeant Pearsall was the Military Photographer of the Year for 2003.  Click here to view some of her work.