In my upcoming book, “Perception is Reality … and other things I learned at Officer Training School” I talk about the basic training haircut ritual. I traveled all the way to Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio,Texas – back in Oct 1981 – to get my head shaved! I remember it like it was yesterday.
Here’s the snippet from my new book …
The haircut initiation for enlisted basic military training was memorable. I remember getting marched over to the barber shop. We didn’t really march, we more or less gaggled; we’d only been on base for a day or so. We looked ridiculous traipsing around out of step, in our civilian clothes and sporting “long” hair. I, like most of the new recruits, had relatively short hair. But, even so, we looked like hippies compared to the sharp uniformed and sharp marching recruits who’d got to basic training a several weeks ahead of us.
A few of our fellow flight members were sporting some very long hairstyles; looked like they were trying out for the lead role in Jesus Christ Superstar. As such, they became neon-flashing-light billboard-sized targets for the military barbers. They would regret going to basic training with extra-long hair.
All 50 of us formed up in a gigantic semi-circle around the four barber chairs. Then the first four victims got selected. They just happened to be the four guys with the longest hair.
I watched with a steely stare at one particular recruit; his blonde locks reached half way down his back. The barber slowly circled the chair, carefully selected his clipper and then turned to the new recruit and asked nicely, “How would you like your hair cut son?”
The new recruit replied politely, “Well, if you could just take a bit off the top, trim around my ears, and then leave …”
I couldn’t hear what the recruit said after that because the laughter was deafening. The entire flight was in hysterics. At first we tried to contain ourselves because we didn’t want to get yelled at by our Training Instructor (TI), but when we realized he wasn’t around, everyone “busted a gut.”
What’s so funny? Well, while the new recruit was describing his preferred hairstyle, the barber calmly took his “zero height” clippers and plowed a bald wide stripe down the middle of the recruit’s scalp. The recruit was still facing us. Then the barber gently turned the chair so it was facing the mirror. The new recruit got a look at his new hairstyle; he seemed on the verge of crying. He was getting humiliated. And, the barber loved it; it was all part of the game; all part of the initiation.
The angry recruit did a fairly good job of taking it all in stride. He knew his goose was cooked; he would just have to bare it. The new recruit was at the mercy of the barber – we all were.
The barber kept a straight face but we all knew he was enjoying the moment. He took his sweet time cleaning the clippers. Then he went into acting mode as he reached over and picked up one of the attachments, “Hmmm, wonder if I should use this one? Maybe not. Let’s try this one?”
The barber’s play acting seemed to take an eternity as the new recruit sat helplessly in the chair sporting the goofiest looking hairstyle every invented – a bald strip down the middle of his head and two long manes of blonde hair flowing over his shoulders. Someone in the crowd gave this new style a name when he exclaimed, “Hey, it’s a reverse Mohawk!” The longer the recruit sat there looking in the mirror, the more we laughed. We couldn’t stop laughing – impossible – he looked insanely absurd. And, the barber knew it. The barber used this guy as an example to get the rest of us in the correct attitude for our haircuts.
Here’s the message the barber communicated with his demonstration: “You’re all getting the same damn haircut. You’re all here to do what you’re told. You want get creative – you want to make requests – you should have stayed a civilian. Just sit in the chair, shut up, and get your bald man “Kojak” haircut!”
By the time the barber selected his next set of clippers you could tell the new recruit was praying for it to be over; just cut it all off – hurry! A buzz cut would look infinitely better than the Reverse Mohawk style he was currently showcasing.
The remaining haircuts were done quickly and without much fanfare. The psychology worked; we were all eager to have our heads shaved and start fitting in to this new world of basic military training.