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In 'After Action,' a South Carolina combat vet tackles the humanity of life after service

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PBS
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Stacy Pearsall and her service dog, Charlie, want to bridge the gaps often grow between returning veterans and their families. Her series, 'After Action,' produced by SCETV, is airing on PBS stations around the country.

Stacy Pearsall was 27 years old, frustrated, angry, depressed, and medicated when a war hero changed her life. She had wrapped her entire identity in her military career – a combat photographer with the U.S. Air Force.

But she was wounded in Iraq; suffered traumatic brain injury and emotional stress that she’s accepted is a permanent injury all its own. She didn’t want to leave the Air Force. But her doctors at the Veterans Administration told her she would not be able to lift her equipment anymore; would not be able to ride her horse when she got home.

She was given what she describes as “a trash bag full of pills” to help her cope with her physical and emotional pain.

So there she was, 27 and retired not by choice, sitting at a VA clinic, when Mickey Dorsey sat down beside her with a big smile on his face.

“I'm like, ‘What are you smiling about?’” she says. “‘There's nothing to smile about in life.’”

She didn’t know who Mickey Dorsey was. But she soon found out, he was a legitimate war hero – a World War II veteran and Chester native who not only survived D-Day, but helped liberate the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp in Austria.

But he hadn’t told her that. He hadn’t told her anything. He just sat by her and she, despite herself at the time, felt she should just talk to him.

“So I did,” Pearsall says. “And he changed my life.”

So began Pearsall’s climb out of the abyss, and back to work with her camera. She started documenting veterans she’d met, exchanging stories and learning the many (many) ways trauma and combat veterans process what they’ve been through.

And as her travels around the country grew into her new calling card, Pearsall decided it was time to produce a show on which veterans would talk about their experiences. The result is ‘After Action,’ which is produced by SCETV and is currently airing on PBS stations around the United States.

‘After Action’ is, at turns, poignant, life-affirming, direct, funny, and cathartic – much like talking with Stacy Pearsall herself.

You can listen to the story by clicking the audio player above, ad you can catch ‘After Action’ Mondays at 9 p.m. on SCETV, or anytime online by clicking here.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.