Col. Fallin’s new adventure: Local veteran takes on Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise scholarship funds

Retired U.S. Army Col. Don Fallin (Photo courtesy Don Fallin)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Retired U.S. Army Colonel and Fairview High School alumnus Don Fallin is planning his second endurance challenge fundraiser for the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund (JMSF) which honors military service and sacrifice by providing scholarships to veterans and military family members, especially to children of our nation’s fallen or disabled. Between 2018 and early 2019, Fallin raised more than $17,600 for the fund with a months-long solo hike of the nearly 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail.

The new plan will take less time, from Jan. 10-17, 2021, but it is no less ambitious. Fallin will be joined by a team of military compatriots in east Africa to take on Mount Kilimanjaro as Team Johnny Mac.

Fallin shared in a message, “The goal is to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, which is one of the seven summits and the fourth tallest in the world. Located in Tanzania, it is also Africa’s tallest peak and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. The summit, named Uhuru Point, is 19,341 feet above sea level. This challenge hopes to both provide awareness of the JMSF and raise funds for our nonprofit education scholarship program.”

The Tribune on Monday spoke by phone with Fallin, who is currently serving as an advisor in Saudi Arabia while he finishes his training and preparations for the climb, about what led him and his team to the east African mountain.

Fallin told The Tribune, “I had served in the horn of Africa about a decade ago, and it piqued my interest, but I was unable to do it back then. So, after completing the Appalachian Trail last year, I was looking for something both challenging, and two, something a little different than a hike, and something that maybe I could bring more people into. So, that being said, I needed something a little shorter in duration, but something within reach for folks.

“So I came up with the idea. I pitched the idea to Mary Ellen (Picciuto), who is West Point Class of 1986 and Johnny Mac’s classmate, and president of the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund. She was really excited about it. So then, we reached out to anybody that was interested, and ended up getting- right now, I’ve got myself and two of my West Point Class of 1988 folks on there, and one of Johnny Mac’s personal friends, John Magness, and potentially a couple more. We’ve got a month still recruiting folks.”

Team Johnny Mac began with four Army veterans:

  • Col. Don Fallin, Cullman AL, USMA 1988
  • Jamie Brennan, Birmingham, AL USMA 1988
  • LTC (Ret.) Todd Miller, Millidgeville, GA, USMA 1988
  • John Magness, Hillwood CA, USMA 1986


The short length of the adventure makes fundraising a challenge

Said Fallin, “This one’s not like the Appalachian Trail in fundraising where I could kind of fundraise along the way because of guys like you (The Tribune) and Channel 19, and my family and friends and classmates in Cullman. But this gives us the chance that we’ve got to start fundraising in advance. And the pressure of completing this thing, at least one of us getting the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund banner to the top of the hill, at least takes the stress off of an individual, because we’ve got four really middle-aged people doing this- the other three in far better shape than I am! 

“So, we’re fundraising in advance, being optimistic that we will get to the top.”

JMSF set up the fundraising campaign page for supporters to make tax-deductible donations. As of Monday morning, the campaign had already raised more than $6,000 of its $20,000 goal.

Fallin, who lived near his last pre-retirement post in North Carolina, will be moving back home to the Cullman area after his return from Africa.

Who is Col. Fallin?

According to JMSF:

Don Fallin first enlisted in the Army as a Private in 1982 after graduating from Fairview High School. He was assigned to the Field Artillery and served in Germany after completing basic training. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York where he graduated in 1988 and was commissioned in the Infantry Branch. 

His first assignment was in the 101st Airborne Division – Air Assault, where he served for three years in the 502d Infantry Regiment. After transferring branches to Aviation, he graduated from flight school and the AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter course in 1993, and then served at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the 229th Attack Helicopter Regiment (Airborne) as an Apache Attack Helicopter Company Commander. He then served in the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea at Camp Stanley and Camp Page in the 2nd Aviation Brigade.  

After graduating from the Ireland Defense Force Command and Staff College in Dublin Ireland in 2001, he was reassigned to the 229th Attack Helicopter Regiment (Airborne) at Fort Bragg NC. He was then selected to serve as an AH64 Apache Longbow Air Cavalry Squadron Commander in Illesheim, Germany from 2006-2008. Following Squadron Command, he was selected to serve in a Special Mission Unit in the Joint Special Operation Command from 2008-2011. In 2014, COL Fallin was selected to command the Special Mission Wing under the NATO Special Operations Command in Afghanistan. 

He has eight combat tours which include: 

  • Infantry Platoon Leader – Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm
  • Aviation Battalion Task Force Operations Officer – Operation Enduring Freedom at Bagram, Afghanistan
  • Aviation Brigade Task Force Deputy Commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom at Balad, Iraq 
  • Four Special Operations combat tours in Somalia, Horn of Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan which included the Captain Phillips Hostage Rescue off the Somalia Coast in the Indian Ocean and Special Operations Task Force Commander for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver Canada.  
  • Commander of the Special Mission Wing Special Operations Aviation Group (Mi17) in Afghanistan. 

His awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, five Bronze Star Medals, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, three Meritorious Service Medals, the Combat Air Medal and three Army Commendation Medals. He is an Army Airborne Ranger and has been awarded the Combat and Expert Infantryman’s Badges, the Combat Action Badge, Senior Army Aviator Badge, the Air Assault Badge and the Pathfinder Badge. He is helicopter rated in the Huey, Cobra, Apache, Longbow and the Soviet Mi17. 

He is also a graduate Survival-Evasion-Resistance and Escape Course, the Jungle Operations School, the Arctic Warfare School the Canadian and Irish Airborne Schools and the Ireland Defense Force Command and Staff College. In addition, he holds two Masters of Science Degrees from Troy State University and the National Defense University. He retired in 2016 from Fort Bragg NC, with over 30 years of service in Infantry, Aviation and Special Operations assignments.

About the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund:

Giving Back Through Education: The Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund honors military service and sacrifice by providing scholarships to veterans and military family members, particularly children of our nation’s fallen and disabled. Time and again, our soldiers and their families are asked to give of themselves for the rest of us. While they ask little in return, we owe them so much. Through education, we give back to those who gave. We give back to “Our Own.” It’s the least we can do. You can visit the Johnny Mac site at  

Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; donations are tax-deductible. All funds go directly to the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund and a receipt is sent via email.

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W.C. Mann