Go on guts


Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

Years ago, I was working in my father’s home office. I grabbed a gold Cross pen to sign a letter. Hours later, my dad wanted to know where the pen was. He was insistent. What’s the big deal, I wondered.

This is the guy who tossed his medals in the trash (mom rescued them.) He long ago jettisoned the reel-to-reel tapes he’d sent with messages from Vietnam. In the more than two dozen moves of my childhood, I’d watched my dad toss plenty of our possessions.

This pen was one of two treasured gold Cross pens. One was a gift from my mother. The other was from a solider that had served with him. The soldier had “go on guts” inscribed on the pen. The soldier admired my father and his approach to leadership.

As the daughter of a soldier, I wasn’t always fond of my dad’s leadership style. I often conjured the image of Yul Brynner in “The Ten Commandments” portraying the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II: so let it be written, so let it be done. Once, following my father up the stairs in a building at Fort Leavenworth, we passed a soldier who was descending.

“Take off your hat, son,” my father said. The soldier didn’t break stride or say a word. He yanked off his hat and kept moving. It made an impression on me.

Grown men followed his orders. I didn’t stand a chance.

At another military base in my youth, I was home in the early afternoon when the phone rang. I thought I’d be reckless and answer it the way civilian kids do. Just for fun. Just one time.


“Who’s house is this?” my father barked.

“Col. Hatch’s quarters Cheryl speaking sir.”

I couldn’t spit the words out fast enough.

My father is a man of few words and a man of his word. He raised us to be accountable for our actions, to tell the truth and to respect our elders, especially my mother. He promised if we told the truth, he’d have our backs. No matter what.

When I was 16, my dad and mom got that terrible middle-of-the-night call that parents dread.

Driving home from work, I took a tight turn on a winding country road, skidded and wrecked the family’s second car, the beater Bug my dad used to commute to work.

“You were driving too damn fast,” he said, as he drove us to the hospital. The swear word and the silence that followed made his point. He never said another word about it.

Days later, he took me to purchase my first car. I’d saved my money. I’d agreed to make the car payments and cover the cost of the insurance, gas and repairs. I assumed responsibility for the car and my actions. My dad trusted that I’d learned my lesson.

When I was a teen, I asked my dad if I could stand in line all night to buy tickets to a Led Zeppelin concert. It would mean missing school the next day, too. He said yes. And when I asked to take my younger brother, a budding drummer, to the concert, my dad said yes. He trusted me to look out for brother and myself.

In January, Dad told us the doctor had found a shadow on his pancreas. Shadow and pancreas are not two words I want to hear in the same sentence, particularly not after cancer has stalked several people I love, claiming two, in the past couple years.

I flew home when the first procedure was scheduled. I arrived and learned that it had been postponed; the doctors required additional tests.

In early March, Dad underwent the initial procedure and I wasn’t there. I was at Allegheny hosting our second annual photojournalism conference. The family waited for the results: cancer or not cancer.

Dad called one day while I was meeting with a student. I excused myself and took the call. It’s not cancer. Good news. It could become cancer. Not the best news.

I’m an optimist. My dad’s a pragmatist, a soldier, a combat engineer. He gathers information. Weighs options. Then he goes on guts.

I like the expression and its double entendre. Go on guts implies following your intuition. To me, it also means to act with resolute bravery in the face of a daunting challenge.

These past few months have been tough for my father, a family man. Though he’s a man of faith, Dad’s facing his mortality. I sense that he doesn’t want to leave my mom. I believe that alone gives him a huge tactical advantage.

Dad did his research. He discussed his options. He chose surgery.

Go on guts, Pop. Go on guts.


Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.
















Mishaps and Miracles


When I walked outside this morning at 0300, I lifted my eyes to the sky and saw Orion and the sight of him cartwheeling in a dark sky lifted my heart. 

We’ve been under what the soldiers call “air red.” It means we can’t move anywhere because no medivac air support would be available to help in the event of an “event.” Since we arrived here, I’ve felt like I’ve been walking on the moon. It’s cold.  The sky has been heavy–the sun and stars obscured by a dense fog/dust.

Seeing the stars this morning felt like the first of many miracles I’ve noticed in the last 24 hours.

Yesterday the battalion chaplain  Capt. Jose Serrano hosted a prayer brunch and invited brigade chaplain Capt. Herb Franklin and the soldiers to join him in a dark tent, that until last night, had served as the DFAC (dining facility.) About 35 soldiers sat facing each other behind long, narrow tables. They bowed their heads, broke bread and prayed together.

I read the “scene setter” in the program, a quote by George C. Marshall, General of the Army, 1944.

“I look upon the spiritual life of a Soldier as even more important than his physical equipment….

The Soldier’s heart, the Soldier’s spirit, the Soldier’s soul are everything. Unless the Soldier’s soul sustains him, he cannot be relied upon and will fail himself and his country in the end….

It’s a miracle–I mean a spiritual miracle–which wins the the victory in the ultimate, and that type of morale can only come out of the religious nature of the Soldier who knows God and who has the spirit of religious fervor in his soul… I count heavily on that kind of Army.”

Chaplain Serrano said: “The is nothing more awesome than to be a  leader. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It means you’re an example.”

And one by one, he invited the 1-5 leaders to the podium to pray.

Battalion. Commander Lt. Col Brian Payne:  “Lord, thank you for this day, this time for reflection. You’ve been so good to us. Thank you for what you’ve allowed this battalion to accomplish.”

He finished with his “biggest request:” that this year of service would be a foundational moment in the soldiers’ lives.

Capt. Blalock prayed for “all the families back at home (who are having) such a tough time while we’re away. Pray for the families of our fallen soldiers, our fallen comrades. I ask you to give a comfort only you can give.”

Capt. Boatman: “We are a family together.” She thanked God for “your birth, the birth of our nation and the birth of Afghanistan.”

Capt. Marks: “Pray for this nation Afghanistan, help them provide for themselves.”

Capt. Smoak: “Lord, we just ask you to keep a watchful eye on this country.”

Chaplain Franklin wrapped up the gathering in a bow, returning to the theme 0f leadership. He asked all present: “What do you believe, what do you have hope in?”

“Leadership, I believe, grows inside out. A leader is a dealer in hope… You don’t have to be a Christian. Find a way to be a dealer in hope.”

Not long after we left the prayer breakfast, there was a generator mishap (human error) and a powerful electric surge blew many of the heating units in the buildings and crashed the computers and phones in the MWR (Morale Welfare Recreation.) Imagine the effect on morale if there were no heat and no phones or Internet to connect with loved ones on the eve of Christmas Eve.

Crews jumped into action. On the other side of the base, recon and bushmaster troops were hard at work finishing the new DFAC. Lt. Col. Payne had asked that it be finished so the soldiers could have the Christmas meal in the new facility. It had been just four days since they’d received the AEK (All Electric Kitchen.) The crew was having its own version of electrical challenges, blowing circuits every time all the ovens powered up.

Yet, when the sun set–and yes, we could see a partial sunset through the haze–the soldiers were streaming to their first meal in the bright, roomy, new DFAC.  Soldiers were huddled over phones and computers in the dark mud hut, brought closer again to faraway family and friends 

And I went to bed in my CHU with a new heater warming my room…on a day that warmed my heart.