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Around The Fleet

The Bootcamp Buzz

RTC barbers at the cutting edge of boot camp

Though recruits face many uncertainties upon first arriving to Recruit Training Command, the Navy's only boot camp, there's one thing of which the males can be certain: They will get their heads shaved.

Having the honor of exposing their scalps during this long-standing military rite are six Navy Exchange barbers with 85 years of combined RTC experience among them. Armed with clippers and scissors, the barbers shave, trim and crop a total average of 75 to 100 recruits on an average day, and that number easily climbs to more than 150 on busy days.

"It is repetitive, but there is a tad bit of creativity to the haircuts due to the fact that we cut different ethnic types of hair that create some challenge," said Alvin Tharbs, who has been shaving heads at RTC for 21 years. "And no matter what kind of day we might have, we really want to come here and do our best and make the recruits feel welcome."

In addition to Tharbs, the barbers - who all previously worked as hair stylists in the civilian world -Hyong Davis has been at RTC the longest at 24 years; Pam Kiesgen, 20 years; Brenda Ricker, 15 years; Ricardo Nicholas, five years; and the newest member of the crew, Eren Gonzalez began four months ago.

Photos from RTC's barber shop

Within 12 hours of recruit arrival, the Sailors will be lined up outside the barber shop located in the Golden Thirteen in-processing building.

That initial haircut is to get everyone on the same level; the same playing field. We're a team and need to look uniform all the way around," said Tharbs.

The recruits will see the barbers twice more before graduation as they receive another haircut midway through training and one right before graduation at which point they are allowed to have the top, sides and back all neatly trimmed.

As of January, female recruits no longer are required to have their hair cut. Previously, RTC required all females with long hair to cut it to the lower edge of the uniform collar. Now, female Sailors will have the ability to choose any hairstyle that meets uniform regulations and are taught how to properly wear their hair in a bun. Females requesting a haircut may still receive one.

"Previously, females didn't have a choice about getting their hair cut and there were a lot of tears," said Tharbs. "The crying has been greatly eliminated because now they have a choice. Those who choose to get their hair cut are volunteering to do so - they're like warriors!"
Although recruits only spend about three minutes in the chair, it's during those few minutes that the barbers make it a point to put them at ease by engaging them in conversation.

"I'm a talker - I find out more about these kids than their parents probably know," said Kiesgen. "We want them to know that when they see us, they can relax, even if only for a moment."

Photos from RTC's barber shop

Nicolas said he listens to the recruits describe their struggles with training and that offers him the opportunity to get them motivated in the few minutes they sit with him.

"I feel like I'm part of this whole operation and somehow, someway, the people that need me always wind up in my chair," said Nicolas. "I have small talk with them to help them find purpose when somewhere along the way they lost [sight] of why they came here."

Although their time is short with the recruits, each barber feels honored to play a role in the boot camp experience.

"Seeing the recruits from when they first get here until they graduate gives me pride as I feel that I had a little hands-on in helping the Navy," said Kiesgen.