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Retired Colonel on a mission to help others reach higher

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Don Fallin served our country for 34 years, flying dangerous missions as a helicopter pilot. This retired Army Colonel who grew up in Cullman, is now on a different mission. And it may be his most challenging yet.

Fallin graduated from Fairview High School and enlisted in the army in 1982. “Part of the reason I joined the military was to help get education benefits because my dad was just a farmer. You know, rural Alabama,” Fallin recently told us. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy. He also holds two Masters degrees, one of them from Troy State University.

You’d think after 34 years of service to our country, including being deployed for four and a half years and eight combat tours, he’d be ready to just take it easy. “I have been asked that question a lot but I enjoy the outdoors,” he said.

Col. Fallin’s mission now is to help those who serve and especially the children of veterans who are wounded, disabled or make the ultimate sacrifice to our nation. “I think the biggest reason is that I had such a great military career, very fortunate, I had great leaders that I worked with, and there’s nothing I think that is just as amazing as getting to serve alongside with our nation’s most valuable treasure and that’s the sons and daughters of our country,” he said choking back tears.

He's proud of what those men and women are doing. “You get to see what these kids do,” he said. “You know, it’s some of the most difficult conditions overseas, it’s truly amazing. And I think a lot of it goes unnoticed.”

To help them achieve their dream of getting a college education, he’s taking the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund Challenge. He said proudly, “My goal is to raise $10,000.” He’s hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. “It’s like an endurance event,” he said. “And I didn’t have a lot of experience with backpacking so I said Sure, why not?”

He’s doing it to raise money and awareness of the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund which provides scholarships to help those who serve and their dependents go to college. Col. Fallin started his journey on March 27. We caught up with him recently on Monte Sano. He was taking a break for a family event.

“I underestimated a couple things,” he said. “One is certainly the impact of weather in that time of year and two, is just how darn hard this is.” The trail is a 2,190 miles hike. “And even with all my time in the service, this is probably going to be my most challenging physical event to date,” Fallin said.

It’s more than a walk in the woods. “I have chased frostbite twice,” he said. “I got caught in a snowstorm in the Appalachians and then I had two bouts with hypothermia.” He’s not alone. “Everybody talks about bears but I haven’t seen one yet so I’m pretty fortunate,” he said. “So far, so good”

His goal is to finish by late September. “It takes anywhere from four to six months. So, I’ll give it a shot,” he said. Fallin is averaging 12 to 20 miles a day. “It’s like eating an elephant,” he said with a smile. “It’s just one bite at a time and every day is a little different from the day before.”

And he will finish the journey. “I will finish the mission, or as my son said, Dad, come home with your backpack or in it,” he said. “My kids cut me no slack. So that’s my marching instructions.” He’s getting a lot of support from his wife and kids. And they understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. His daughter works for the military at Fort Bragg and his son is a soldier.

If you’d like to contribute to Colonel Fallin’s fundraising efforts, you can do that by clicking on the crowdrise link. And here’s a link to take you to the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund where you can learn more about the mission and get involved.