GHARMA, Iraq -- The rattling buzz of the dirty hair clippers ripped through the cool mid-morning air at the police station here. The sound meant one thing to Marine grunts.
Time for haircuts.
It wasn’t a moment too soon. The Marines from 4th Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, serving with Regimental Combat Team 5, had gone long enough without smooth skulls. Miles from a barbershop, they took matters into their own hands and shed their long hair.
“It’s been three weeks since I got my last haircut,” said Pfc. Eric A. Otero, a 19-year-old from of Las Lunas, N.M. “I figured it was time, especially since they have the clippers running.”
The impromptu barbershop opened when a couple of Marines climbed from their racks and ran their hands over their wooly heads. Grubby hands grasped clippers and faces grimaced as each Marine took their turn being both barber and victim.
The spectacle drew both those laughing and those daring to step up for their own turn in the chair.
“I saw everyone standing around so I came over to see what was going on,” said Cpl. Justin L. Mentzer, a 22-year-old from Drummond, Mont. “I saw they were giving haircuts. I knew I needed one, so I got in line too.”
Blouses came off, revealing dried sweat rings on green t-shirts. It was a mix of body funk, clipper oil, cigarette smoke and the heavy odor of smokeless tobacco. The ritual turned into a social event, drawing even more Marines to the shearing haircutting congregation.
For some, the chance to take control of another’s vanity proved to be daunting.
“I have cut my hair quite a few times,” Otero said. “I haven’t cut anyone else’s hair too many times though.”
Most of the Marines just went for the standard shave. Some were a bit more courageous and allowed their brothers-in-arms to try other variations of military cuts. Still, others got high-and-tights or “horseshoes.”
The results were varied. The fresh haircuts revealed the Spartan lifestyle the Marines were leading for the past few weeks. Bald heads revealed tan lines from hours in the harsh sun and caked dirt from weeks without showers or baths. They walked around rubbing their stubbly scalps grinning and unsure of the results.
“I went for the horseshoe today, but now that I have seen it in the mirror, I think I might go and get back in line again,” said Navy Seaman Apprentice Adam D. Petree, a 21-year-old hospital corpsman from San Antonio.
Otero said the corpsman’s new “do” made him view him in a new light.
“Doc looks like a lifer with his horseshoe haircut,” Otero said.
The haircuts were just a glimpse into the lifestyle the grunt Marines abandoned when they took up duty at this forward post. Marines here don’t have most of the common comforts their counterparts at Camp Fallujah enjoy.
“Back in the rear, the Marines have barber shops, hot showers and laundry facilities,” Petree explained. “Out here we’re roughing it 24-7.”
The infantry Marines use a rotation program that swaps out units. A few weeks of duty out in the town earns them the right to swap out, get back to the rear base and take care of personal needs.
“Once the rotation starts we will have a chance to get haircuts or even get the opportunity to call home and check e-mails,” Otero said.
Marines here, though, don’t let the little inconveniences stop them. They do without if need be, but most of the time, ingenuity takes over. It was this sort of creativity that spawned the ad hoc barbershop on that cool February morning.
“Even though we are far away from home, away from family and friends, we have come together and are making the best with what we have.” Mentzer said.