On Thanksgiving day and each day, I honor all my relations

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

 

Thank you.

These are the first words I form when I wake. Sometimes softly, in my mind before I open my eyes. Sometimes out loud, before I roll out of bed and plant my feet on the floor.

Thank you. For another day of life. For the breath that fills my lungs.

Granted, as I start my day, I don’t always remember to say thank you, silently or aloud. Sometimes I remember when I’m washing my face.

Thank you.

For the roof over my head. For heat on a cold night. For running water. For the food in my refrigerator.

Or, I remember as I dash to dress for class.

Thank you.

For my job. For the privilege of sharing my knowledge and experience with a new generation of bright, shiny young people, earnest, restless, wise and naïve.

In our last class before the Thanksgiving break, I asked the students to stand in silence and reflect on what they were thankful for. When they opened their eyes, they shared their thoughts. Thank you. For friends and family, for their love and support.

I said I was thankful for our class and my friends and family, though time zones and oceans separate me from those I hold dear. My parents are still here, having weathered health crises that threatened to tear them from us.

Thank you.

For my ancestors. This Thanksgiving break, I’ll visit their graves and leave flowers, new American flags, seashells and chimes. They dreamed for us—college educations and happy lives. I especially celebrate my matriarchal line and my great grandmother. Widowed, she ran the family farm and raised her nine children. Born after the Civil War, she was ahead of her time. She insisted her six daughters got training to work, so they could support themselves. A suffragette, she blazed a trail for all women who followed.

I am thankful because I have spent time in dark places. Events I’ve witnessed and the suffering I’ve photographed seared my heart and scarred my soul. I remember the dark times. In my mind’s eye, I hung over an abyss, clinging to the wall and life by the very tips of a few fingernails. Every piece of my being pleaded with me. Let go, Cheryl. You’ve had a good life. Let go. You’re tired. It’s too hard to stay the course. It would be so easy to let go.

Except for the small, tiny, persistent voice that whispered “Hold on.” You don’t want to leave your niece and nephew. You want to watch their lives unfold. Hold on. You don’t want to leave this wide world. There is beauty here, even as you dangle above the void.

As a photographer, I know well the beauty of the shadow and light. I also understand the importance of where I place my focus. If I focus in one direction, things may look bleak: I don’t have a job lined up after my third year at Allegheny College. If I shift my attention slightly, I see things in a different light. I have a job now and the possibility of new adventures—and that’s where I place my focus.

If I look in the mirror, I reminded that I’m overweight. I’m forced to face the extra pounds I carry every time I put on a swimsuit or dress for class. Most of the clothes in my closet are two or three sizes too small. They wait to dress a version of my self that I miss and despair I will never recover.

I shift my focus. I’m alive and I’m healthy. With some effort and commitment, I’ll resurrect the athlete I’ve buried and strengthen my core, my muscles and my resolve.

I choose each day to say thank you for the things I have. I don’t spend too much time lamenting what I don’t have or might have lost. I think of the strong women in my life and lineage: my mother, my grandmothers and my great grandmother.

Thank you. For your strength. Your inspiration. Your courage. Thank you for the sense of wonder and lust for adventure that pulses in our shared blood.

In bed at night, before I fall asleep, I again say thank you. For the glorious, precious gifts of the day and this life. For my friends and family. For the beauty of our Mother Earth and all that share the land, ocean and sky.

Mitakuye oyasin. All my relations.

To the Lakota Nation, this is a prayer, an invitation to remember that everything, all life, is interconnected and sacred.

On Thanksgiving Day and each day, I remember all my relations.

Thank you.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/on-thanksgiving-day-and-each-day-i-remember-all-my/article_e41466d2-79dc-11e4-a88a-436a4ed80418.html

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

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Journalists in war zones: shining a light

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x360404418/Journalists-in-combat-zones-write-with-light-while-risking-their-lives

I first heard the news on National Public Radio on my car radio.

On April 4, the day before elections in Afghanistan, an Afghan military officer walked up to a car in a convoy and opened fire. Anja Niedringhaus, a staff photographer for the Associated Press, died instantly. She was 48. Her colleague, Kathy Gannon, sustained multiple injuries and lived.

That weekend, I was attending a journalism conference at Boston University. On Saturday morning, the conference opened with a remembrance and a moment of silence for the veteran photojournalist.

Anja was a colleague. We’d both been staff photographers for the Associated Press. We had both covered conflict. I knew her work; I didn’t know her.

In the days that followed, I felt a sense of sadness I couldn’t shake. I walked along the ocean shore, sat and stared at the small, breaking waves, hoping the salt air and the soothing sound of the surf would wash over me and through me.

The sadness is cumulative and elusive. It’s been with me for decades, long before I noticed it, probably since my first war. It goes into hibernation and awakens every few years, usually on the cusp of spring.

On April 20, 2011, I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, when I noticed the status updates on Facebook. Getty photographer Chris Hondros, a friend and colleague, had been mortally wounded in Misrata, Libya. He was 41. Chris had been covering the uprising in Egypt and opted for one more assignment before returning home to the States. In the New York cathedral where they had planned to wed in August, his fiancée gave his eulogy.

I was eating breakfast in Oregon one morning in March 1994, when I read a brief in the small section on world events in our local paper: an Italian journalist was killed in Mogadishu. I contacted a mutual friend, an Italian journalist I’d met in Somalia and worked with in Mozambique. He sent a fax and confirmed the worst.

Their Somali guards had abandoned Ilaria Alpi and her Slovenian cameraman Miran Hrovatin. They were stranded in their vehicle when gunmen ambushed them and opened fire.

“They killed her like a dog. She had just the time to raise her hands to her face.”

Ilaria, a television reporter for RAI-3, murdered. She was 32.

The last time I’d seen Ilaria, we’d sat on the roof of a dilapidated building that served as a hotel for journalists in Mogadishu. We’d talked and laughed, listening to the gunfire in the streets, watching the tracer fire in the night sky. We’d shared stories of being women journalists and agreed to meet in the summer and share a bottle of wine on the balcony of her Rome apartment.

Once, in Somalia, I was traveling in a car behind a truck loaded with grapefruit. A Somali woman wrapped in a flowing, rich yellow fabric walked past the truck. From the back seat of the car, I stuck my camera with a long lens out the window. I liked the repetition of the yellow, something light and bright in a dark place.

Brakes screeched. Three Somali gunmen bounded from the truck and began screaming and shoving their AK-47s through the windows at me.

I didn’t have the language to explain that I hadn’t seen them, that I was photographing the fruit.

“Maya, Maya,” I said in Somali as they gestured that they would shoot. “No, no.”

I smiled, put up my hands and kept talking in English.

They didn’t shoot. I was lucky.

There but for the grace of God.

The thought flickers across my mind when I read stories of journalists, friends and colleagues killed covering conflict.

Liberia. Iraq. Somalia. Eritrea. Afghanistan. I got out alive.

Yes, journalists assume risks when they work in conflict zones. Injury. Disease.

Now assassination is a risk. Shoot the messenger.

It’s uncertain and under investigation whether the April 4 shooting was a random act of violence or a targeted killing. Both women were well known in Afghanistan for their years of reporting in the region.

Nearly 20 years to the day of Ilaria’s death, the Italian government is considering declassifying secret files related to the journalists’ deaths. It’s been suspected that the journalists were killed to prevent them revealing a high-level conspiracy to divert Italian aid to an organization trafficking in weapons and toxic waste, according to reports in the Italian press last month.

The Committee to Protect Journalists posts a tally of the number of journalists killed each year. This year, 17 journalists have been killed as of April 14. In 2011, 47 journalists, including Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, were killed. In 1994, 66 journalists, including Ilaria and Mirvan, were killed.

In his remembrance of Anja, AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon called her “a lighthouse guiding us to safety.”

I have always liked that photography comes from the Greek for “writing with light.” I think of all journalists—and particularly those who work in conflict zones—as writing with light. Bearing witness. Shining a light into dark places. Revealing the truth.

Last Saturday, I was driving back from a pie run to Westfield, N.Y. It was a sunny, warm day. I was thinking about this column. Remembering Anja, Chris and Ilaria.

The CD deck switched to a Mavis Staples’ CD, “We’ll Never Turn Back.”

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

I rolled down my window and turned up the sound. I sang along with the phrases that resonated. For my friends who’ve died. For the journalists who continue to shine their light.

The road is dark. The way was long….

Don’t give up. Don’t back down. Don’t let the liar turn you round.

All in the street, I’m gonna let it shine. On the battlefield, I’m going to let it shine.

When it shines, freedom shines.

When it shines, no more sorrow.

When it shines, no more pain.

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

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Stories, ideas and funds needed building local ‘field of dreams’

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Outside the Box,  a weekly column in The Meadville Tribune

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” a voice whispers like a breeze through the corn stalks as Kevin Costner walks through the field on his Iowa family farm.

“If you build it, he will come,” it says.

Costner decides the voice wants him to plow under his crop and build a baseball field. His wife agrees to his project.

I love this movie and I will show it to journalism students in both our classes next Wednesday evening. It’s full of great lessons for life—and journalism.

I was still in a hospital bed in Kuwait in the spring of 2012 when I received a Facebook message from Richard Sayer, who is a photojournalist at The Meadville Tribune. Until this semester, he taught photography in Allegheny’s art department. I had no idea who he was—and he had a heck of an idea.

He wrote me and said he’d heard I was coming to Allegheny. He wanted me to help him create a photojournalism conference, the first of its kind at the college. Since you’re a photojournalist, he said.

What’s not to love about a total stranger and fellow photojournalist finding me on Facebook and inviting me to collaborate with him on a project? I wrote him and told him I hadn’t yet accepted the job—and I loved his initiative and idea.

“Documents of War: the ethics and challenges of visual storytelling” was a resounding success. We received funds and support from departments across campus, including the Center for Political Participation and the Robert H. Jackson Center.

Our keynote speaker was Richard’s college friend, Craig F. Walker, a fabulous photojournalist and human being with a couple Pulitzer Prizes to his credit. Ken Kobré showed his film “A Deadline Every Second” and Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis showed “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator.” I shared the stage with my former student, JR Ancheta, and we presented our work and stories from Afghanistan.

Richard and I resolved to make the conference an annual event. It would help raise awareness on campus and in the community about the power of visual storytelling and of journalism’s vital role in our democracy. It also showcases Allegheny’s new journalism in the public interest minor.

Win. Win. Win. My kind of scenario.

We started brainstorming. Since last year’s conference was international in scope, let’s do a 180. Let’s go local. I’m teaching a multimedia class this semester. Let’s make it a multimedia project and the students will do the research, find stories, host the visitors and participate in the storytelling. On Saturday night, we’ll show the projects the students and our guests have created. Journalists on the student newspaper, The Campus, will create a special edition featuring the weekend’s stories and photographs.

I did my graduate work at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication, the preeminent program for visual journalists. Yes, I am a believer and a proud alumna. At VisCom, students once participated in an annual project called “Dawn to Dusk,” in which they documented life in a community from sunrise to sunset.

I called Stan Alost, a friend and VisCom professor.

Richard and I felt strongly we wanted students to learn from each other and OU students have plenty of energy, talent and experience to share.

Stan, I’ve got this field-of-dreams idea. I’m putting the cart way before the horse. We don’t have the hardware. We don’t have the software. We don’t have the funding. I have no idea how to do this. I do have this vision of what’s possible. This glorious image in my mind’s eye makes me giddy at the thought of what’s possible.

I’m in, Stan said. Spoken like a true journalist. We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it happen. It’ll be great.

“The Story Next Door: Community Journalism in Action” is a work in progress. We have the dates: March 7-9, 2014. We have a space: the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts, where the lobby will become a working multimedia lab and people can stop by and witness the students and professionals at work. We have a new team since the CPP is focused on the bicentennial events this year and next. Terry Bensel, Lesley Fairman, Steve Prince and Jamie Williams joined our merry band of builders.

And we have a stellar line-up of speakers. Michael Williamson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer from The Washington Post, will speak. Nicole Frugé, a fabulous photojournalist and assistant director of photography at the San Francisco Chronicle, will be an editor and mentor. Preston Gannaway is an independent documentary photographer who won her Pulitzer Prize for feature photography working on a small paper in New Hampshire. She’ll present work from three of her long-term projects.

On Tuesday, Richard Murphy sent me an email with the subject line “Arctic Gator.” An alumnus, Murphy is the former director of photography at the Anchorage Daily News and a Pulitzer Prize-winner.  He confirmed that he will join us as the opening night speaker.

In our JOURN 300 class on Tuesday, we discussed the conference and the students’ roles and responsibilities. We don’t have everything we need yet. We do have a talented group of young people and professional photographers who understand the power of image and initiative. We have a great group of people committed to making our dream a reality.

If you have story ideas about people on campus or in Meadville, let us know. If you know local businesses or people who are part of the history and fabric of Meadville, let us know. If you have fundraising ideas, most definitely let us know. And if you have funding to offer, we would truly appreciate the support.

We are building it. We welcome your help.

And be sure to come.

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

The human heart can only take so much

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

Last week, after the Texas A&M/Duke bowl game, posts from my photojournalist friends started pouring into my Facebook news feed. Veteran Associated Press photographer Dave Martin had once again captured the classic image of the winning coach being doused in water

The caption would read “Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is dunked in the closing seconds of a 52-48 win over Duke in the the Chick-fil-A Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)”

Moments after making the image, Martin dropped on the field—dead, at 59, of an apparent heart attack.

He went by “Mullet,” after the fish not the hairstyle, according to one memorial piece. Colleagues, friends and family remember him as a generous man and great storyteller, on and off the job. A hard worker who put his heart into everything he loved: his job, his photography, his family.

In refection, I read one story that included a selection of photos from the events Martin had covered in his 30-year career with the American wire service.

As I looked through the online gallery, I marveled at the images and the scope of his accomplished career. He covered hurricanes, tornadoes, the Olympics, Super Bowls and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti.

I had one thought: the human heart can only take so much.

On Thursday, Dec. 12, our classes had finals: one from 2 to 5 p.m. and another from 7 to 10 p.m.  I went home, packed a suitcase and caught the flight from Erie to Houston, where my mom was undergoing unexpected heart surgery. I knew I wouldn’t make it before she went in. I darn sure wanted to be there when she came out.

There was a best-case scenario—and there were others that I wouldn’t consider and my father feared. Twelve days later, when Mom unwrapped her presents that Dad had piled under the Christmas tree, I knew our best gift wasn’t there. Our best gift is—and always has been—my mother’s resilient, tender, strong heart.

As a photojournalist, I once worked with a reporter on a story entitled “The Heart of the Matter” about a woman getting a new lease on life through open-heart surgery. The surgeon warned me there would be blood, and that many people wouldn’t be able to stomach watching—let alone photographing—the chest-cracking, blood-draining, multiple-hour procedure.

In Mogadishu, I photographed a gunshot victim as he reached up and tried to assist the medical students who were operating on him with no general anesthesia. They stood in pools of blood in a looted, dilapidated hospital. In Baidoa, I was barely an arm’s length from a gunman when he assassinated an unarmed volunteer schoolteacher at an orphanage, shooting him in the head at point-blank range. I watched the blood gush from his body.

Sure, I could handle the sight of blood.

More than a decade after Somalia, I would discover that I couldn’t handle the cumulative toll of my years as a reporter and photojournalist. I ground my teeth at night. I had debilitating migraines. I gained weight. My heart kept calling me. I kept shooting the suffering and depravity I witnessed in remote areas of the world and in American neighborhoods.

In 2003, I left my job as a staff photographer at the AP. I wanted to cover the Iraq War and there were no indications the editors would send me, even though I had experience in Iraq and combat. I had lived for years in the Middle East. I had knowledge of its history, cultures, peoples and the Arabic language. I didn’t want to miss the story of our generation, our war story.

In the end, I didn’t go to war and leaving AP did save my life. I chose a different destination. It was tough to resist the pull of the story I had abused my mind and body, especially my heart, for far too long.

I have heard the comments and questions about my life choices—the ones I made to go to war and the ones I made to stay away.

How could you leave such an exciting/glamorous/international/adventurous life for a boring one in a small town? Because my heart told me that the life I loved was killing me.

Many Allegheny students pursue their grades and degrees the way I chased stories. They live and learn on a pushed pace and under self-induced stress. Takes one to know one, as the childhood taunt goes.

Adrenaline-soaked, sleep-deprived and driven, these bright students are throwing themselves on the same pyre that burns day traders and journalists. It can be a slow burn or a fast one. If I hadn’t changed my ways and opted for healing and balance, I would have gone beyond burned out. I would have become ash.

I start each class at Allegheny with moments of silence. I invite the students to clear their desks, close their eyes and breathe. I tell them I care about their learning and their well-being. I care about their academic growth and their personal growth. I care about their minds.

And I care deeply about their young, open hearts.

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

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Waiting for the perfect shot

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Today students in my photojournalism class turned in their first assignment: three photographs from the coverage of an event. I asked for prints and contacts sheets so we’d have the tactile experience of holding the prints and viewing their shooting and editing process.

They put their desks in a circle and placed their prints on top of their desks. (We don’t have a long table or wall to display the photographs as I would prefer.) I asked them to circulate and look at each other’s images and be prepared to participate in a critique.

Quite a few students covered the homecoming football game. Others covered a Mr. and Miss Allegheny fundraiser for UNICEF and the campus’ famous annual “Wing Fest.” We talked about action shots, storytelling moments, behind-the-scences images. We discussed the strength of their compositions and how they might have improved the shot through cropping or shifting the angle or perspective while shooting.

At one point, near the end of class, one of the students mentioned that he wished he shot more. I asked him to explain.

He said he’d kept waiting for the perfect shot and ending up with only  a few images before it got too dark to keep shooting.

I told the student that he’d offered us a great insight, that I was happy that he’d had that level of self-awareness and observation. I suggested he shoot more on the next assignment, maybe 70 to 100 photos, the old-school equivalent of two or three rolls of film.

“Next time we have a photo assignment I am going to just shoot and not wait for a perfect shot,” he wrote me later in an email.

It got me thinking about life…about how often we wait for something to be perfect before we act. The right moment. The right day. The right man. The right woman. The right time to ask someone on a date. The right time to call someone and apologize. The right time to write. The right topic to write about. Writing the perfect blog.

And actually, because of my commitment to Tia to write a blog a day, I’m here after the opening of the Faculty and Alumni Exhibit at Allegheny College, sitting on the floor of my office, writing this blog at the end of a long day of teaching.

It’s not the perfect time or the perfect situation and it sure as heck is not going to be a perfect blog. And, it will be a whole lot better than if I’d waited and done nothing.

I think there’s something so beautiful and wise and worth hearing in the student’s comment.

“Next time I’m going to shoot and not wait for the perfect shot.”

You can miss a whole lot while you’re waiting for the perfect shot.

Take the shot.

Take a shot.

Post 101

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I’ve been looking at photos for the past few days, doing an edit for an upcoming photo essay on the soldiers of the Female Engagement Team.

I decided to share a few photographs…simple scenes, moments that caught my eye.

And you’ll notice a couple sunsets and a moonrise. I made a point to watch the sun set and the sun rise wherever I was while I was embedded.

I was always seeking beauty…in moments, in light, in gestures.

And giving thanks at the beginning and end of each day.

On the cement wall outside the PX at Kandahar Airfield, an artist made a statement twisting the words of John Lennon. There are all kinds of tags on the barrier. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

An M240 machine gun is silhouetted against an Afghan sunset in the guard tower the soldiers of 3rd Platoon Charlie Company man 24/7. The soldiers have calculated that they've spent four of the 12 months on deployment on guard. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

The full moon rises over the mountains near Masum Ghar. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

SPC Cody Sampolski helps PFC Kent Young up the hill after crossing an irrigation ditch as Sgt. Robert Taylor follows them while on patrol near Khenjakak. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

This is the view from the window of a MATV. I was excited to see some of the scenery as we traveled, even if it was through a small dusty window with polka-dot camouflage. Unless you're a driver or manning one of the hatches of a Stryker, you wouldn't have a view as you traveled. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

Soldiers lay down their rifles during their evening meal in the Dining Facility at Forward Operating Base Shoja. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

Two soldiers do sunset PT at Forward Operating Base Shoja. They're running five miles on gravel with 70-pound rucksacks on their backs. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

The sun sets behind Strykers parked at Forward Operating Base Shoja. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

All lined up

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Down from a set of latrines and outside the Recon tent, Sgt. Wayde Rozniewski, 24, from Los Angeles, Cali., sets up his impromptu barber shop at Forward Operating Base Shoja. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

It all started with Haircut Monday at Edgerton.

“So the First Sergeant wouldn’t yell at us,” said Sgt. Wayde Rozniewski, 24, from Los Angeles, Calif. “Me and a bunch of my buddies knew how to cut hair and we needed haircuts cuz we kept getting yelled at by the First Sergeant. We all started cutting.”

Rozniewski, a member of Recon platoon, carried his barber kit and skills to Forward Operating Base Shoja, battalion headquarters for the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment of the 1/25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

On a sunny February afternoon, the day after Valentine’s Day, Rozniewski gave a haircut to Spc. Anthony Del Moro, 21, from Plainfield, Il. (“We like to call it ‘Lamefield,'” Del Moro said.)

Sgt. Wayde Rozniewski gives Spc. Anthony Del Moro a haircut outside the Recon soldiers' tent at Forward Operating Base Shoja on Feb. 15, 2012. The members of Recon wear Power•Balance bracelets, like the one of Rozniewski's right wrist. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

Del Moro sat on a portable camping stool on the the gravel outside the Recon platoon’s tent. “On our cool little front porch,” Del Moro said.

Rozniewski charges for his services: $1 for an NCO, $3 for an officer.

“Officers make more,” Rozniewski said. “We had money saved up but we keep spending it on energy drinks.”

Rozniewski gave Del Moro a low fade with a line up.

“Ladies love the line up,” Rozniewski said. “That’s why everybody hates the Recon guys cuz we’re all lined up.”

Sgt. Wayde Rozniewski gives Spc. Anthony Del Moro a low fade with line up at Forward Operating Base Shoja on Feb. 15, 2012. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

Sgt. Wayde Rozniewski circles Spc. Anthony Del Moro and surveys his haircut from all angles. Rozniewski charges NCOs $1 for a haircut. Copyright 2012 Cheryl Hatch

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