The Allen Special
More than just a haircut
For most, going to the barbershop isn't an out of the ordinary experience. Day in and day out, service members trek to the barbershop to stay within Navy grooming regulations.
However, any crewmember aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) can tell you their visit to the barbershop was the highlight of their day.
The shop stands out like a small oasis amongst the grey of the ship. Featuring a red-and-blue striped barber's pole, the shop draws the attention of all passersby. Stepping in, you can quickly recognize the barbershop scent of aftershave as classic hip-hop music plays in the background. It could be easy for someone to forget they are on the ship. And that's just what Ship's Serviceman Seaman Devonta Allen wants.
Allen, originally from Yazoo City, Miss., had plans to join the National Guard to become an auto mechanic so he could provide for his newborn daughter.
It wasn't until he spoke to a Navy recruiter that those plans changed.
"A recruiter came into my high school and played a slideshow, and I liked what I was seeing," he said. "One of the guys that already joined from my school had on a nice uniform and drove a BMW. I asked myself, 'How did he get that?'"
Allen decided to enlist in the Navy, and left for Recruit Training Command on March 25, 2014.
After boot camp, Allen went to Meridian, Miss., for ship's serviceman "A" school then received orders to check aboard USS Porter (DDG 78), stationed in Norfolk.
Shortly after getting to Porter, Allen received news that his father had passed away.
"I didn't know my father until I was 16," said Allen. "I spent my last year of high school with him and he saw me leave for the Navy. As soon as I came to the ship I heard he passed away. Even though I had only known him for a few years, it was like I had known him forever."
Allen credits the Navy and his shipmates for helping him persevere through that tough time in his life.
"My first job on the ship was the ship's store operator," said Allen. "It was cool. It was a job that let you meet everybody and gives everybody a chance to meet you."
After realizing how supportive the crew of the ship was, he felt welcomed to be working alongside them. He wanted to give back for all their help.
Eight months later, he found out the ship was going to be forward-deployed to Naval Station Rota, Spain.
Although this meant he was going to be separated from his daughter, Allen never lost ambition to serve alongside his shipmates and provide for his little girl.
Once in Rota, the ship's servicemen were undermanned. Allen found himself not only working as the ship's store operator, but also in vending and as the ship's barber.
"The ship didn't have anyone in the barbershop, so when they threw me in there, I didn't have any experience," said Allen. "I was just remembering what my first class tried to teach me before he left. I didn't want to be a barber at first. I just tried to do what he did. I was terrible, but hey, I just kept going. They sent me to barber school, and I watched a lot of videos on the internet. The more I worked in the barbershop the better I got. After awhile I thought 'Man, this stuff is easy!'"
Allen found a passion for cutting hair and made it a goal to open up his own chain of barbershops in his hometown of Yazoo City, and in Spain.
"It's a cool feeling to transform somebody's entire look just by cutting their hair," said Allen. "It's like art, like trying to make a masterpiece. When I'm in the barbershop it feels like I'm by myself, doing my own thing, and I'm able to create something and make someone look decent at the same time."
He also does his best to make the crew feel welcomed and like they are going to get the best haircut ever.
"I want people to feel like when they come to me they know they are going to get a good haircut, in regulations. When they get their haircut they feel important. I do a big part in keeping the ship's morale high."
Allen said when people can look good and maintain their military bearing, morale is high, and the ship is operating at its best.
"When I give somebody a haircut and they look fresh, they go back to their work center and get the ship moving. Let's say I cut somebody's hair in deck department and when they go on watch to man the helm, it's like they make sure the ship doesn't even rock!"
Keeping morale high is an important task while being underway. For many Sailors, deployment can be a hard time to stay focused. It's Sailors like Ship's Serviceman Seaman Devonta Allen that keep ships motivated and mission ready.