When it comes to U.S. war veterans, ‘nobody outranks anybody in death’

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Writer’s note: I am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.

When I was in graduate school in Ohio, I was working on a documentary project on military families and I decided to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day.

As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, I had visited the wall a few times since its inauguration in 1982. I loved that Maya Lin, who designed the memorial, envisioned the black granite structure as a wound in the earth.

On this visit, I carried a family photo, a classic square Kodak print with the pastel colors and white border. Sitting with our backs straight (shoulders back, my dad would say), four Hatch siblings flashed our shiny grin-grimace smiles for the camera for a photo destined for a Christmas card that would find our father in Vietnam.

As I approached the back of the wall, I broke into deep sobs. Ambushed. I dropped to my knees.

An Army officer’s kid, I was raised to shake off slights, scrapes and wounds. I didn’t shed tears. I looked at the photo, then at the wall, then at all the people making the pilgrimage to the black granite memorial etched with the names of the more than 58,000 who had served and died in the Vietnam War. I sat on the grass and sobbed.

My father came home, twice. So many men and women didn’t.

While I was a Snedden Chair at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the photojournalism students and I had embarked on a project documenting the lives of the Fort Wainwright soldiers as they trained and their families as they prepared for an upcoming deployment. Lt. Col. Brian Payne invited a student photojournalist and me to join the soldiers of the First Battalion Fifth Infantry Regiment downrange.

For Christmas 2011, JR Ancheta and I were embedded with the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Arctic Wolves” in southern Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Days after Christmas, we joined Charlie Company on an air assault mission. It was their first since their previous air assault when Pfc. Brett C. Wood, 19, was killed walking on patrol when he hit an improvised explosive device. Every soldier in third platoon wore a black metal K.I.A. bracelet in honor and memory of Wood.

Allegheny College 2005 graduate Staff Sgt. Robert Taylor was on patrol with Wood that day.

“No chance,” Taylor said. “He died instantly.

“I was the first one there. I’m not glad it was me but I’m glad it wasn’t anyone else. I take comfort maybe even. Sgt. O’Neal and I were the only ones to bear the burden.”

The soldiers followed protocol, swinging a hand-held metal detector, a Vallon, to sweep for and clear the area of other possible explosive devices.

“Sgt. O’Neal made the decision,” Taylor said, recalling his leader’s words that day. “’Taylor, you’re holding your s— together. I need you right now.’”

The two men then gathered the remains of their fallen fellow soldier.

“The memories aren’t something I enjoy, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to be anyone else,” Taylor said. “I’m happy I was able to protect those guys from that.”

On Memorial Day 2012, “Arctic Wolves” soldiers, family members, JR and I attended the service for the 21 soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

The dead: Spc. Bradley L. Melton; Pfc. Cheizray Pressley; Pfc. Lamarol J. Tucker; Sgt. Jeffrey C. S. Sherer; PV2 Ryan J. Larson; First Sgt. Kenneth B. Elwell; Pfc. Tyler M. Springmann; Pfc. Douglas L. Cordo; Pfc. Brandon S. Mullins; Spc. Douglas J. Green; Spc. Christopher J. Marquis; Pfc. Brett E. Wood; Sgt. Rodolfo Rodrigues Jr.; Sgt. Timothy D. Sayne; Spc. Ryan J. Cook; PV2 Danny Chen; Spc. Calvin M. Pereda; Spc. Johnathan “Bryant” McCain; Spc. James R. Burnett Jr.; Pfc. Matthew C. Collin; Pfc. Dustin P. Napier.

My friend and fellow journalist Larry James is a veteran journalist and a veteran. We met in Cairo, covered conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. We once crossed paths in the middle of Liberia: I was on my way out; Larry was on his way in to cover the civil war.

James was a 22-year-old first lieutenant when he arrived in Vietnam. As an infantry platoon leader, he joined the men of Charlie Company, Fourth Battalion, Ninth Infantry Regiment (Manchu) in May 1968. The unit had suffered grievous losses in the previous five months, including an ambush on March 2, 1968, in which 49 soldiers were killed.

Decades later, James wrote a book about the soldiers, the ambush and the events surrounding it. He opens “Unfortunate Sons: A True Story of Young Men and War” with a quote by Desiderius Erasmus, a 15th century Dutch humanist: “War is delightful to those who have no experience of it.”

James wrote the book to remember the young men and to record their history and service since the story remained unknown outside of the small group of Manchu. In the acknowledgements, James wrote he intended the book as “an overdue tribute to a group of young Americans who did what was asked of them and paid with their lives.”

The dead: Jose Luis Alvarez-Tapia; Gerald Lawrence Avery; Charles Edward Bonds; Harlan Ray Brandts; Jerry Walker Byers; William Brace Cawley Jr.; Gary Virgil Frazier; Michael Dennis Frost; Raymond Leroy Gallagher; Cal Duain Johnson; Lawrence Johnson; Jack Joseph Jordan Jr.; Lee Roy Lanier; Charlie Frank Lee; James Rufus Mathis; Robert Junior McGee; Charles Edward Melott; Leonard David Moore; Thomas Lee Mork; Barry Lee Moyer; James Francis O’Laughlin; Kenneth Lindle Oldham; William Rassano; Jose Angel Reyes; Roy Donald Page; Ronald Landon Salvani; Willard Skaggs Jr.; Michael Ross Rivers; Aristides Sosa; Clifford Geoffrey Stockton; Ronald Allen Slane; Warren Lee Tall; John Michael Thompson; Danny George Swazick; Walker C. Velvet Jr.; Larry Huston Walden; Carrel Jean Titsworth; Paul Edward West; Darrell Eugene Wheeler; Gary Winston Watkins; Joseph Jerome Williams; Virgil Lawrence Williams; Larry Allen Widener; Danny Stephen Young; Willard Frank Young; Kenneth Wayne Winget.

I asked James if he intentionally listed the soldiers’ names without their ranks.

“Yes, I did,” James said. “Nobody outranks anybody in death.”

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x1667062542/When-it-comes-to-U-S-war-veterans-nobody-outranks-anybody-in-death

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

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On Veterans Day, remember those who did and didn’t make it home

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch (click here for the online version)

I am the daughter of a soldier who grew up in the military.

I don’t have childhood friends. I don’t remember most of my teachers. I don’t even know where I was in third grade. My mom once created a timeline of our travels—we moved more than 20 times before I graduated high school.

When people ask where I’m from, I have no easy answer. Everywhere. And nowhere. My brother used to say he’s from planet Earth.

As a young man, my father worked in a nursery in his native Rhode Island. As a retired combat engineer, he now tends his lawn and garden in the withering Texas sun. Dad likes azaleas and dogwood trees. Neither is indigenous to Texas; neither is hardy enough for the climate.

I remember visiting one summer and my dad decided to move four azalea bushes from the front of the garden to the back near the brick wall. In the middle of the day. In the middle of the summer.

I remarked that it wasn’t a wise move. They’ll be fine, he said.

Two of the plants managed to take root and keep their green leaves; the leaves of the other two turned brown and withered. They weren’t fine.

I couldn’t help but think of the four Hatch children when I saw those four azalea bushes.

As a child, I didn’t understand what my father did for a living. He’d polish his boots and brass at the table while I ate my cereal. He was out the door before we left for school.

And a few times, he left for war.

I’d wait for a single letter or, better yet, a yellow box with a reel-to-reel tape that would carry his voice from Vietnam to our house. We’d jump on the bed and gather around my mom and listen to the tape.

Those tapes and letters are long gone. Dad travels light.

Once he dumped all his medals and commendations in the trash; Mom rescued them. Another time, he tossed paintings my mom had done—her renderings of one of Dad’s many tours—when she was home alone, waiting. She learned their fate too late to rescue them.

As an adult, I went to war as a photojournalist. My military upbringing and its many moves taught me plenty that was useful. Dodging military police at curfew as an adolescent proved useful training for crossing borders illegally as a reporter. I was resourceful. I had good instincts. I could read body language and I had an ear for foreign languages. And yet, I knew nothing of war.

For more than a decade, I documented those left in the wake of war, those uprooted by the brutality and depravity of their fellow human beings. And when I lost my bearings, I turned my back on war. I didn’t know it followed me.

A decade later, I was teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and our class started a documentary project, covering the soldiers and their families at Fort Wainwright as they prepared for an impending deployment to Afghanistan.

“I have a love-hate relationship with the military,” I told the public affairs officer.

“That’s OK. I have a love-hate relationship with the media,” he said.

Breaking a promise I’d made to myself and against my better judgment, I returned to war, taking a student with me to follow the soldiers of the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team to the Horn of Panjawai’i in southern Kandahar Province in the winter of 2011-2012.

Many soldiers don’t talk about their experiences—not to civilians. And certainly not to journalists. Soldiers don’t like journalists, as a general rule.

I quickly learned not to ask my father about Vietnam.

“What do you want to know, Cheryl? I got up. I brushed my teeth. I flew in helicopters.”

I had plenty of experience with reticence and hostility in response to my questions when I embedded with the 1st Battalion Fifth Infantry Regiment.

In Afghanistan, I walked behind one Charlie Company soldier day after day on patrol. Sgt. Robert Taylor. I followed in his footsteps in a way I couldn’t follow my father.

An infantryman, Taylor would toss bawdy jokes over his shoulder as we walked or took a knee and killed time while others cleared the path ahead.

“Trust and loyalty. Whether you’re in war or in life, you need someone who’s gonna do more than his job,” said Taylor one night when we were talking about the glue that bonds soldiers on a battlefield. “You need someone who’s gonna hold you; someone who’s gonna pick you up. Most people have that with your family.”

Taylor’s right bicep is inked with the word “Pops” and a 1977 Chevy El Camino, a tribute to his father, who was diagnosed with cancer in February 2002 and died Oct. 12, 2002. Taylor was then a student at Allegheny College and played on the football team.

“And my dad wouldn’t let me come home,” Taylor said. “He grew up poor and he wanted me and my son to go to college. That was his dream.”

When Taylor returned from Afghanistan in the spring of 2012, he married his sweetheart, Liza Jane, and they welcomed their son, Robert Taylor, IV the following March. He was wearing an Allegheny football T-shirt when he held his son for the first time.

I sent the newest Taylor a onesie, bib and hat with Allegheny gator logos. I told Taylor I’d already shared the good news with his former coach, Mark Matlak, who had held him up when Taylor’s father died.

“I am happy you shared with coach already. Thank you,” Taylor wrote me. “As for the T-shirt, there was nothing else I wanted to wear to meet him in. I chose it specific for his entrance. The doctor who did the C-section was actually from Pittsburgh and she was very familiar with AC. It’s a small world filled with amazement.”

As I considered writing this column, I remembered the men in our family who have served in combat. My late Uncle Bill served on a ship in the Pacific in World War II. My dad and his brother each did two tours in Vietnam. And there was my grandma’s brother, Charlie.

I called dad for more information on the uncle I would never meet. My dad talks more now.

“He went ashore near Anzio,” Dad said.

Killed in action. Buried near Florence, Italy. He never made it home.

On Veterans Day, I remember those who made it home and those who didn’t.

And those who are still searching for home.

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

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One Year Later

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This time last year, JR Ancheta and I landed at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

I dragged my feet at the beginning of the journey; JR dragged his feet at the end. And in between, we made a journey together–step by step–following in the footsteps of soldiers in the 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment of the 1/25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska

Tomorrow, JR will fly home to spend this Christmas with his family, and so will many of the soldiers.

It’s a journey that started as a conversation with Maj. David Mattox, a public affairs officer at Fort Wainwright. I was the Snedden Endowed Chair at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, teaching in the journalism department. The students had an opportunity to report on the soldiers as they trained in mock Afghan villages, which led to an invitation to cover their training at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. JR was one of three students who reported from NTC and his work was published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

At NTC, Ltc. Brian Payne invited us to join them downrange. And the seed was planted.

I completed my teaching and left Alaska in June, though JR and I stayed in touch over the summer; each of us considering the risks and rewards of a self-financed trip to embed with the troops of the 1-5 in southern Kandahar Province.

We took it a step at a time, still wavering on a final decision. We purchased and procured our visas. We submitted our embed paperwork and received clearance. We bought the Death and Dismemberment Insurance ($1150 for 30 days). All that remained was to buy the airplane tickets.

I waited. In my mind, it was JR’s decision. I had spent 10 years covering conflict in the Middle East and Africa and 10 years recovering from those 10 years. I was not entirely eager to return to a war zone. And I didn’t necessarily want JR to want to go.

I had been to war and, for many reasons, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, particularly not someone as young and tender-hearted as JR. At the same time, he was a man and a budding photojournalist and he could make the decision. I knew one thing he couldn’t possibly know–or factor into his decision: once you’ve been to war, you can’t undo it. What you see, what you feel, what you live, it sticks. You can’t shake it.

And that’s why I was dragging my feet. I wasn’t sure why I’d go back. I knew the costs. And frankly, I thought I was tempting the fates. I’d made it out so many times. Going back in seemed like asking for trouble. And I would go with JR if he chose to go.

In early December 2011, JR and I made the decision to go. I purchased the tickets and we met in Portland Airport on Dec. 14. JR called his family from the airport. The hardest part for JR, I believe, was leaving his family, knowing that they would worry.

He passed the cell phone to me. It was his mom. She asked me to keep her son safe. I said I would, hoping I could and knowing that ultimately it was out of my hands. I didn’t call my parents. I’d worried them enough over the years. They did not need to know I’d be spending Christmas in Afghanistan.

We flew to Amsterdam then to Kuwait to catch a military flight to Kandahar. With two hours until our flight, JR called his family again. I caved. I called my parents. I could not fly into Afghanistan without talking to my parents. I was being superstitious.

I think my dad answered. I asked him to put my mom on the other line. Then I told them I was heading to Afghanistan in a couple of hours. I told them I was with a former student and we’d be spending Christmas reporting on the troops.

Looking back, I’m glad I made the call. I’m glad I went to Afghanistan. I’m glad I went with JR.

And I’m glad I could keep my promise to his mother, although I know I didn’t keep him safe.

If you’d like to read our stories from Afghanistan:

http://newsminer.com/view/full_story/16916329/article-The-dog-of-war–Sgt–1st-Class-Zeke-helps-Fairbanks-based-soldiers-deal-with-stress?

http://newsminer.com/view/full_story/16906376/article-Fairbanks-based-Strykers-celebrate-Christmas-while-coping-with-war-in-Afghanistan?

Fairbanks Strykers dealing with air, ground assaults, insurgents, locals in Afghanistan

http://newsminer.com/view/full_story/17030099/article-Fairbanks-Strykers-dealing-with-air–ground-assaults–insurgents–locals-in-Afghanistan?

Female Stryker team making advances in dealing with Afghan women, children

http://newsminer.com/view/full_story/17257258/article-Female-Stryker-team-making-advances-in-dealing-with-Afghan-women–children?

Remembering Memorial Day: A conversation

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My friend Jeanene asked me to speak on her radio program that she intended to be a conversation about Memorial Day in advance of this weekend’s day of remembrance.

After two months in Afghanistan, three weeks in a Kuwaiti hospital and traveling halfway around the globe, I exhaust easily. And I’ve noticed my emotions are raw. I was concerned I wouldn’t make it through the conversation. I was afraid I wouldn’t be articulate. I was afraid I’d cry. Frankly, at first, I didn’t want to do it…and I didn’t want to disappoint my friend.

It was another opportunity to share stories of the soldiers of the 1/25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, particularly the soldiers of the 1-5. So I accepted.

It was a thoughtful and emotional conversation not a political one. At the start of the program, Jeanene said: “I think it’s really important to distinguish the concept of war from our recognition of the warrior. Because while it’s meaningful to debate the virtues or lack of virtues for any given war, it’s not OK with me to debate the virtue of the those killed in action….I don’t ever confuse a political action, which is declaring war, with that very scared action of giving up one’s life.”

At :36.40 until :38.58 in the one-hour program, I read the 21 names of the soldiers from the 1/25th who did not return from Afghanistan.

I invite you to listen to the conversation and start conversations with your friends and families about the meaning of Memorial Day.

Below, I’ve included a link and Jeanene’s description of the intention of the program. Thank you for listening. Thank you for remembering.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/coffeepartyusa/2012/05/24/louden-clear-with-jeanene-louden-thursdays-at-230-et

This week is a special Memorial Day conversation with journalist Cheryl Hatch, just back after an embed with an Army battalion in Afghanistan where she documented the lives of soldiers before, during, and after deployment. Her years of being in and out of war zones, plus a childhood of waiting for her father to come home from two tours in Vietnam, have brought forth a body of work called THE COST OF CONFLICT. This insightful collection of images capturing what war leaves behind, combined with her reverence and respect for military personnel and their families, should help set the tone for a thoughtful and meaningful Memorial Day Holiday.

Top Ten Things I’ll Remember about Fairbanks

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I wrote this entry on May 29, as I was preparing to leave Fairbanks after my year as the Snedden Chair, teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was a glorious year of discovery. I’ve listed my favorite, most memorable things about my time in the Interior.

1. The Museum Of the North

2. The soldiers of the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team and their families stationed at Fort Wainwright.

3. My sublime cabin encircled by birch trees, where moose and a red fox came often to visit

4. The aurora borealis that danced outside my bedroom window

5. Theresa Bakker’s Radio Production Class

6. UAF Yoga Club and Infinite Yoga

7. The journalism students who taught me and trusted me with teaching them

8. Outdoor Adventures: hiking at Angel Rocks and canoeing on the Chena River with Okkar and Qian

9. Gifted Alaska writers Sherry Simpson (“The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska” and “The Way Winter Comes: Alaska Stories” and Peggy Shumaker (“Just Breathe Normally”)

1o. Thai food at Simply Thai and Lemongrass

Blogging in Reverse

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I completed my appointment as Snedden Chair at the University of Alaska Fairbanks on May 20. Unfortunately, I haven’t posted a blog entry since March 26. Though I left the biggest state in our nation in June for the smallest, I still have many tales to tell and insights to offer from my time as a visiting professor.

I propose blogging backward. I know the idea of a blog is to write on a regular basis, present a sort of online diary or commentary. I had the best of intentions. When I started, I planned to write every day. Then every few days. Eventually, I told myself once a week would be satisfactory. Then I simply stopped posting. My energy and commitments had shifted entirely to my students. My departure from blogging corresponds to my return from an amazing and intense learning opportunity with three UAF students: an embed with Fort Wainwright soldiers training in the Mojave Desert for their impending deployment to Afghanistan.

When we returned from our embed in the Mojave Desert with the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Arctic Wolves,”  I helped JR Ancheta, Matt Anderson and Jeric Quiliza get their work published. Matt published a story in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner accompanied by JR’s photos. JR also had a photo essay and story, “In the Box,” published in the local paper and a Sunday front-page multi-page feature, “The Long Goodbye”  in the Anchorage Daily News. (A big thank you to Anne Raup for her editing and support).  Jeric Quiliza had two news pieces featuring his video broadcast on News 13 in Fairbanks.

I was so proud of the students and happy for their success. It was hard work for everyone. I spent many hours in the office and a lot fewer hours sleeping. I am grateful for all the help of the news staff who embraced the students’ projects and contributions:  Amy Chausse at News 13, from former features editor Glenn Burnsilver at the News-Miner, Anne Raup at the Anchorage Daily News  and Jerry Evans, Dan Bross and Greta Johnsen at KUAC for helping me air my first radio pieces with the audio I collected. (I took a recorder instead of cameras…that will be another post 🙂

And a special thanks to Maj. David Mattox at Fort Wainwright for keeping us in the loop and paving the way for access for our coverage of the soldiers and their families.

Sadly, the last thing I did before leaving Fairbanks was attend a memorial service for three Fort Wainwright soldiers killed in Afghanistan:

“The three soldiers were on their first patrol of a yearlong deployment with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division on May 15 when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.

Spc. Bradley L. Melton, 29, of Rolla, Mo.; Pvt. Lamarol J. Tucker, 26 of Gainesville, Fla.; and Pvt. Cheizray Pressley, 21, of North Charleston, S.C., were killed. A soldier from the unit the Fairbanks-based soldiers were replacing also was killed. Two other soldiers were injured.

Bound for LA and Beyond

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UAF Journalism students JR Ancheta, from left, Jeric Quiliza and Matt Anderson phone home from the beach north of Santa Moncia, California. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

At 23:30 (we slip into military time for this trip) on Wednesday, Jan. 16, our adventure begins.

I pick up JR Ancheta, a still photographer and photojournalism major, at his dorm, and Jeric Quiliza, a videographer and broadcast journalism major, at his home off-campus. The third student, Matt Anderson, has his own ride to the airport. I’ve told him if he doesn’t meet us at check-in, I can’t cover the cost of his checked bag. He’s on his own.

With the help of Maj. Dave Mattox at the Public Affairs Office at Fort Wainwright, I had arranged an “embed” experience for three University of Alaska Fairbanks Journalism students to cover the 1-25th Stryker Brigade during their training at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert near Fort Irwin, California. The department has a history of covering events connected to the soldiers. This trip allowed us to expand upon the collaboration of students and soldiers training side by side. The students learn how to work on an assignment in challenging situations with real deadlines and the soldiers learn how to work and interact with members of the media. We have separate yet equal missions. There are places where we can work together and places where our objectives may be at odds.

The Department of Journalism and the College of Liberal Arts covered the costs of the students’ airfare. I’m the Snedden Chair, therefore the Snedden endowment covered my travel expenses, including the rental car for our trip from Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert. We would get a lot of bang for our buck.

Prior to leaving Fairbanks, I created a mentor system for the students. UAF photojournalism professor Charles Mason would be JR’s mentor. Documentary filmmaker Rob Prince would be Jeric’s mentor. And veteran reporter and chair of the department Brian O’Donoghue would be Matt’s mentor.

We held a meeting to discuss our upcoming trip and walk through any potential problems we might encounter and any concerns the students had. We were presenting the students with a rare and incredible opportunity. With advance planning and discussion, I hoped we could help them prepare to make the best of our assignment. They’d return home with stories to tell–and to publish in local and, ideally, national media.

Brian warned the students that they might need to be assertive and persistent about getting access. Rob suggested Jeric keep the camera rolling if he were denied access to an event. I had them create a list of story ideas. They had a complete packing list. Check. Check. Check. Ready to roll.

JR had checked and rechecked–and checked a final time–his packing list and his gear. JR was ready to go. Jeric said he packed about an hour before departure. Matt called me at 22:00 and asked what kind of bag to pack. He played a game of broomball with his intramural squad at 22:30 then showered and made it to the airport as we began clearing security. He paid for his own baggage fee.

I’d gone to the airport at 06:00 that morning to secure window seats for our trip. Matt went online and changed his seat. OK.

We leave at 01:30 Thursday, landing at LAX at 09:30. I leave to get the rental car, pick up the students and their baggage and head for a rendez-vous with a friend from my days in Cairo, Michael Nelson, now based in LA as a staff photographer with the European Press Agency.

Michael Nelson, from left, LA-based staff photographer with the European Press Association, poses for a photo with UAF Jouranalism students JR Ancheta, Jeric Quiliza and Matt Anderson before the students depart an "embed" assignement with the 1-25th Stryker Brigade. The Fort Wainwright soldiers were training at the U.S. Army National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

Michael Nelson, from left, LA-based staff photographer with the European Press Association, poses for a photo with UAF Jouranalism students JR Ancheta, Jeric Quiliza and Matt Anderson before the students depart an "embed" assignement with the 1-25th Stryker Brigade. The Fort Wainwright soldiers were training at the U.S. Army National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

I’ve learned from my years of travel and work overseas, it’s important to take advantage of the time on the front end of a journey to get a good meal and rest a bit before plunging into an assignment. I figured it would be a great chance for the students to network and get last-minute tips/advice with a professional photojournalist.

We had an early lunch at Back on the Beach Cafe north of Santa Monica with the sun shining on our faces and the surf of the Pacific Ocean a short walk from our table. After dipping our toes in the water, we said good-bye.

I had to get out of Los Angeles, heading east on the I-10 and reach Fort Irwin before 15:30. JR would be my navigator.

Jeric and Matt promptly fell asleep in the back seat. And so began our journey to “the box.”

Matt Anderson sleeps during the three-hour journey east on the I-10 from Los Angeles toward Fort Irwin, California. Copyright 2011 Cheyrl Hatch

Jeric Quiliza sleeps during the three-hour journey east on the I-10 from Los Angeles toward Fort Irwin, California. Copyright 2011 Cheryl Hatch

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