‘After Action’ host Stacy Pearsall and her service dog, Charlie

Truly a military town, Beaufort is rife with active duty and retired veterans, their families and friends, and folks interested in vets’ affairs of all sorts. The “Sound of Freedom” resounds across our Lowcountry skies most every day, as the F-18s, F-35s, and C-130 transports practice readiness and take my breath away every time I hear one – or more – overhead. But that’s another column entirely.

On January 17th the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for Performing Arts (USCBCFA) hosted South Carolina Educational Television’s local supporters and the public for the season premiere of an important series that aired on SCETV on January 9th. New one-hour episodes of the seven-part series, After Action, will air weekly on Monday nights at 9 p.m.

Providing viewers with a deeper appreciation of the lives of these American heroes before, during, and after service, the series features conversations with three different vets each program – a total of 21 from across the nation, representing all branches of the military. Major topics covered are brushes with death, transforming new recruits, connections to citizenship, being the first women in their respective fields, experiences with military sexual trauma, the power of service animals, and the trials of returning home “after action.”

PBS will distribute After Action to affiliates throughout the United States. Episode One, entitled All Gave Some,premiered on November 11, 2022, in honor of Veterans Day, and began the current showings on January 9th. Hosted by SCETV, the ETV Endowment, and USCBCFA, the Beaufort event featured a screening of a clip from Episode Two, followed by a panel hosted by ETV Lowcountry’s Holly Bounds-Jackson and series host Stacy Pearsall, a retired Air Force combat veteran and the visionary behind After Action. More about her later.

Panel members included veterans Bambi Bullard, Dan Wrightsman, and Meggen Ditmore. A bit about each follows.

Having joined the Marine Corps with the goal of obtaining the GI Bill, Bullard served in the corps for 15 years, was one of the first women to go through Military Police training, became a drill instructor at Parris Island, and worked at the Pentagon for the Secretary of the Navy. Ditmore became the first woman to enlist as an A-10 Thunderbolt crew chief in Air Force history and served in the frigid wilds of Alaska and the wide deserts of the Middle East during Operation Desert Fox.

The third panelist, Dan Wrightsman, enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman, completed Ranger School, and after 30 years in the Army, serves as the current Deputy Director of Operations for the South Carolina Department of Veterans’ Affairs (SCDVA; 803-734-0200) as a way to aid veterans during their transition process and to help when they face challenges. One SCDVA peer-support initiative, the Palmetto Pathfinder Program (scdva.sc.gov/palmetto-pathfinder-program), provides personal support for transitioning veterans by connecting them to relevant resources and services in their community. It assists them in accomplishing their personal and professional goals and thriving after military service by helping with issues such as health care, employment, suicide prevention, nutrition, establishing social networks, housing and judiciary incentives for incarcerated and recently reintegrated veterans.

What makes the SCETV series extremely powerful is the fact that as a veteran herself, host Stacy Pearsall knows the right questions to ask, challenging her interviewees to delve deeper into their stories.

“Focusing on shared values such as diversity, strength, commitment, generosity, and resilience, After Action seeks to demystify the military experience, provide a platform for dialogue among military family members, bridge the gaps that often grow between veterans and their families, and preserve military stories, many of which have, to date, been left untold,” says Pearsall.

Starting in the service as an Air Force photographer at the age of 17, she traveled to more than 40 countries and attended the Military Photojournalism Program at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, graduating as a 50 Forward Distinguished graduate. During three combat tours, Pearsall earned the Bronze Star Medal and Air Force Commendation with Valor for combat actions in Iraq.

Wounded by an IED in the Middle East, she suffered a traumatic brain injury and emotional stress that Pearsall has accepted as a permanent injury all its own. Frustrated at a diagnosis that forced her to leave the Air Force at 27 with a “trash bag full of pills,” she had a cathartic, life-changing encounter with Chester native, fellow vet, and World War II hero Mickey Dorsey, who had survived D-Day and helped liberate an Austrian concentration camp.

Bolstered by their conversation, the combat-disabled young woman revived her crushed spirit, rose above her combat injury-related challenges, and picked up her camera again. With America’s VetDogs Charlie by her side, she continues to work worldwide as an independent photographer. (At no charge, America’s VetDogs provides service dogs for veterans and first responders with physical injuries, PTSD, hearing and vision loss, and seizures; vetdogs.org). Also an author, educator, and military consultant, Pearsall is a BRAVO748 public speaker (a military and law enforcement speakers’ bureau; bravo748.com) and in 2008, founder of the Veterans Portrait Project (veteransportraitproject.com). Since late 2008, this talented photographer has taken more than 8,500 portraits of veterans. The project has been cathartic and healing for her, and, I’d guess, certainly for a number of her subjects.

Check local listings to be sure about airtimes in your area. Find more info on the series itself at AfterActionShow.org. In addition to scetv.org as a PBS-distributed series, After Action will also be available for streaming on the PBS app, PBS Amazon Prime, and on PBS.org. Visit pbs.org/afteraction to learn more about the series itself, the veterans featured in the show, and resources for veterans.

Viewers can also engage with the show on social media by searching the @AfterActionETV handle on Facebook and Instagram. Those interested in interviewing vets featured in the show can contact SCETV Communications at scetv.org or (800) 922-5437.

View a teaser for Episode One at youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=SvhuAAyDp-Q

Kudos to SCETV for bringing attention to, and providing vital information about, some available options for assisting returning heroes make the transition to living productive and positive lives “after action.”