HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA – JANUARY 9, 2019 – 2018 was quite a journey for a retired Army colonel from Cullman. He served our country for 34 years flying dangerous missions as a helicopter pilot. But he was on a different mission last year, one that lasted almost seven months.
Don 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,” he recalled. Fallin graduated from the U.S Military Academy and holds two Masters degrees.
After 34 years of service to our country, he wasn't ready for a rocking chair. “I enjoy the outdoors,” he said. His mission now was helping those who serve, 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 along with our nation's most valuable treasure and that's the sons and daughters of our country,” Fallin told me. He paused for a moment choking back his emotions.
He’s helping those sons and daughters reach their dream of getting a college education. He set a goal of raising $10,000 dollars. Colonel Fallin was going to hike the entire Appalachian Trail for the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund Challenge. “I started on March 27 and I've been pressing north,” he told me last summer. We caught up with him in June 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 and two, is just how darn hard this is.” The trail is a 2,190-mile hike. “And even with all my time in the service, this is probably going to be my most challenging physical event to date,” he added.
He was right. “I have chased frostbite twice,” he said. “I got caught in a snowstorm in the Appalachians and then I had two 'bouts' with hypothermia.” His biggest foe wasn’t rattlesnakes and bears along the trail. It was the weather.
He finished in late October, a journey that took six months and three weeks to complete. “I think it was just continuing for the last seven months of trying to get up every day and crank out the miles to finish,” he said. Fallin pushed himself to the limit. “That combined with trying to finish the New England states before the cold weather hit,” he said.
Colonel Fallin hiked through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. “What kind of keeps you going is knowing you’re hiking for a great fund,” he said. Fallin reached his goal of raising $10,000 dollars after actor Gary Sinise encouraged his Twitter followers to support the cause.
The colonel raised the bar to $15,000 and passed that too, thanks to his family, friends, classmates and those he served with. “We raised over $17,600 for the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund,” he said with a smile.
Fallin wore out five pairs of shoes and lost 28 lbs. "I might do it again but not right now,” he said. Mission complete, time now for some rest. “I really want to say thanks to everybody for helping me through this journey,” he added. “Thank you.”
Colonel Fallin and his wife are looking to move to Huntsville. We’ll be glad to have them as a neighbor.