The Veterans Portrait Project just completed its 31st state, Oklahoma. In just under two weeks, the VPP will visit its 32nd state, Maine! We’re on a roll and we’d like to keep the momentum going. If you see your state listed in orange, and would like to help us check your state off the “To-Do” list, please send an email to Jamie@Bravo748.com.
JOIN ME IN THE FIGHT!
After attending a monthly meeting at Post 166 nearly ten years ago, I joined the American Legion. My new Post was smoke filled and dated, but that didn’t matter. What was most important was their local community endeavors and support they offered fellow veterans. The rest could be addressed in time. I’m a believer that we all have a choice to either sit on the sidelines and complain about what’s wrong or step up and be part of the solution to make it right.
I admit, I’m not as active in the American Legion as I’d like to be. The Veterans Portrait Project has consumed most of my time. That said, I continue to support my Post because their mission is important both locally and nationally.
Veterans issues are always in the forefront of my mind. The majority of my fellow American Legion members feel the same. Every week, members from Post 166 travel to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center to visit with in-patient veterans and deliver clothes and toiletries to those in need. They continue to raise money to help youth sports, provide scholarships, promote youth civics and help veterans in need.
I will concede, there’s an old “Cantina” culture within the Legion I wish would take a backseat. While the cantina is a source of income, it is also a source of trouble. What’s the solution? Trade bartenders for baristas. As a private facility, each post can choose to allow smoking. Why would they? Again, the answer is driven by the “Cantina” culture. By changing from a liquor bar to a coffee bar, the Legion would effectively change the environment and culture. Trade slot machines for public computers with free WiFi where veterans can log on to “My Health e VA” and file for their VA benefits with the help of a trained volunteer American Legion veteran service officers.
Is the American Legion perfect? No. We are only as strong as our weakest link. I saw that firsthand yesterday when a fellow American Legion member posted an offensive, sexist meme they thought was funny. I brought this to the attention of the National Headquarters and they acted swiftly to have the offending post removed. Many of you were as outraged as I. Some of you expressed that behavior as a reason why you have not joined a VSO like the Legion. I implore you to reconsider. We share the same vision and voice. To affect change, we must first stand up and have our voice heard. I cannot do this alone.
Together we can steer the organization from the past to the present while staying relevant and inclusive. Together we can overcome anything. As my brother and sister veterans, you know we are stronger together. Stand with me.
As yesterday demonstrated one individual’s stupidity, which brought shame upon themselves and through them, the entire American Legion. Today, I want to share the MANY stellar American Legion members, who daily demonstrate honor, goodwill, commitment, service before self, loyalty and comradeship.
This series of Service and Guide Dog PSA’s were created by the young women of the Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina over Labor Day weekend 2018. Nikon USA provided Coolpix W100’s so the girls could learn photo and video documentation from Nikon Ambassador Stacy L. Pearsall. The budding documentarians, community volunteers and future leaders spent a day learning of the importance of Service and Guide Dogs through America’s VetDogs ambassador. Charlie. Then the Girl Scouts used their new photographic skills to story-board, produce, direct and edit these short videos.
I was invited to speak to a crowd of America’s VetDogs staff, volunteers and donors at their 9th annual Golf Tournament and fundraiser. After brief remarks, Charlie and I were ask to remain at the podium. I had no idea what was happening. Olivia, along with Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind‘s Sunny, came up and talked about Charlie and how special his mission is. I was crying. Olivia was crying. Then, I was told that my FB fundraising efforts had accumulated $4,500+, which is in addition to the direct donations Charlie and I’ve raised through VetDogs.org. I WAS STUNNED! I was then told we now had “naming rights” to a little female black lab puppy. Coincidentally, I’d mentioned to some folks earlier in the day that I’d love to sponsor a service dog puppy and name her Olivia in honor of Charlie’s beloved puppy raiser, Olivia Poff. Well everyone, you helped make this possible through your generous contributions. So, here she is! Please meet our very own puppy-in-training, Olivia! Since I couldn’t have done this without you, I consider her ours and I’ll be sure to provide updates on her progress! Right now, she’s eight weeks old and really cute…. that’s all I know. Olivia, I thank God every day for you and Charlie – you both have changed my life.
10-YEAR REVIEW: This week marks the ten-year anniversary of my medical retirement from the United States Air Force and the start of the Veterans Portrait Project. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last decade… Though my body and spirit was broken, I learned to push through adversity and pain. I was told I’d never run again; I ran a marathon. I was told I’d never ride my horse, Sir Prize; I switched to wagon-driving instead. I was told I’d take medications the rest of my life; I now have America’s VetDogs Charlie who’s better than any manmade elixir. I was told my photography career was over; I’ve captured in-excess of 7,500 veterans’ portraits, taught photography classes worldwide and now I’m a Nikon Ambassador.
The secret to my success has been PURPOSE. There’s nothing more powerful than having a reason to live. I don’t mean simply “existing.” I’m talking about waking up with a smile, being motived, reaching bench marks, setting new goals and going to bed feeling fulfilled.
The path I’ve walked has often felt uncertain, overwhelming and scary. Even when I’ve felt alone and listless, there’ve been guiding hands leading me through uncharted territory. I’ve had the love and support of my husband, Andy; my step-kids, Hayley and Tyler; my parents, Susan and Steven; my siblings, Meggen, Tami, Chad and John; my friends Trish and Des’ola… and so many more family and friends too countless to mention in this post.
When I was handed my DD 214, I thought life was over – figuratively and literally. Turns out, it wasn’t the end of my story – simply, the ending of Chapter 1. My time and experience in the military provided the knowledge and insight I needed to begin Chapter 2; the beginning of the Veterans Portrait Project and a new mission in life. Early on, I grappled with self-worth issues. I was weighed down by all the negativity. I felt alone, isolated and pointless. With every veteran I talked to and photographed, I felt validated and vindicated. Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my struggle. Witnessing their resilience and perserverance provided me the motivation I needed to put one foot in front of the other. Often, that’s all we really need to do – one step at a time.
I am human. Naturally I’ve made mistakes, met stumbling blocks, fallen flat on my face, even taken steps back. I’m not perfect. That’s life. These trials and tribulations have provided me perspective. They’ve proved that while I have come a long way, I’ve a long way to go. I am optimistic and hopeful for the future. My future.
Here’s what I know for certain. Never let anyone tell you what you cannot do. Rather, FOCUS on what you want to do and GIVE IT YOUR ALL. Your value and worth should be measured in the small successes you achieve in spite of the obstacles before you. For me, the Veterans Portrait Project isn’t just a give-back or photography project. It’s PURPOSE. ❤️ Stacy P.