Retired Colonel reaches his goal but mission continues

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- We have an update for you on a man who served our country for 34 years flying dangerous missions as a helicopter pilot. The retired Army colonel who grew up in Cullman, is now on a different mission. You won't believe some of the challenges he's encountered.

Don Fallin graduated from Fairview High School in 1982 and enlisted in the Army. “Part of the reason I joined the military was to help get education benefits because my dad was just a farmer,” Fallin told me. His dad was also a plumber. Fallin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and holds two Master’s degrees.

He retired after 34 years of military service to our country, but he wasn’t ready for a rocking chair. “I enjoy the outdoors,” he said with a smile. His mission now is helping those who serve. And especially the children of veterans who are wounded, disabled or make the ultimate sacrifice to our nation.

Fallin got a little emotional when he said, “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’s helping them reach their dream of getting a college education. “My goal is to raise $10,000,” he said. The retired colonel is hiking the entire Appalachian Trail for the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund challenge. “I started on March 27 and I've been pressing north,” he said.

We caught up with him in June on Monte Sano while he was taking a break for a family event. “I underestimated a couple of things,” he said. “One is certainly the impact of weather and two, is just how darn hard this is.”

The trail is 2,190 miles long. That’s a hike from Georgia to Maine. “And even with all my time in the service, this is probably going to be my most challenging physical event to date,” he said. He was right. “I have chased frostbite twice,” he told us in June. “I got caught in a snowstorm in the Appalachians and then I had two 'bouts' with hypothermia.”

His biggest foe hasn’t been rattlesnakes and bears along the trail. It’s been the weather. He continued his march through six straight days of rain. Some of the trail was flooded along the way. But despite being soaking wet, he marches on knowing that he needs to get to shelter before the temperature starts dropping after sunset. The mission continues.

Fallin is doing a lot of the trail by himself. He didn’t have any company at all for about 500 miles. When he made it to the half way mark, he got someone to record a video he sent to us. Sitting on a log and resting for a few minutes, he said, “I just passed the 1,100 point on the trail but the realization that I’m only at the half way point has certainly been setting in so I’ve still got about this much more to go.”

By the time he got there though, he did reach his fundraising goal. “Our team now with everyone’s help has exceeded the $11,000 mark,” he said. It helped that an actor who has his own foundation and is a big supporter of our men and women in uniform tweeted to his followers encouraging them to donate. “Gary Sinese personally made a significant contribution and helped with his network to raise a lot of funds,” Fallin said.

The retired colonel is trying to do 12 to 20 miles a day. But he took some time to catch up with his son Sean on a 12-mile ruck march at West Point where he is now a cadet. Then it was back to the A-T. There is still a lot of ground to cover. “If all goes well, I’ll keep pressing north and I’ll be in Maine soon,” Fallin said. “I appreciate everybody’s help. Thank you.”

If you’d like to make a donation to Colonel Fallin’s fundraising efforts, here’s a link to his Crowdwise page. We’ll let you know when he reaches the end of the trail.

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