Haircuts At Joint Base Lackland Never Go Out Of Style

Dec 24, 2012

Haircuts are a routine part of life for most, but for members of our Armed Forces they are a symbol of uniformity and commitment.

Inside Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland’s base barbershop, the black lines on the floor are where men like 26-year-old Orlando Navarro line up, waiting to get their head shaved.

"I'm used to having a bald head anyway," said the New Jersey native.

Navarro is a college graduate and is much older than the average 20-year-old Air Force recruit, but he said he finally got the support from his family and his fiancé to enlist.

"It's just something I always wanted to do; I just always felt like I wanted to do it, kind of like a little kid, you always want to play a warrior. Well this isn't playing anymore. Now you have to do it,” Navarro said as he waited in line.

This haircut - one of the first stages of basic training - will transform him and hundreds of the other trainees into Airmen.

"If you don't keep them lined up, things slow down," said West.

And it’s Lester J. West’s job to do it.

"Our job is to just cut their hair and they're off into the Air Force,” said the veteran barber.

He's been here day in, and day out, for 51 years cutting hair. He exhibits the rigid routine the men are exposed to at basic training.

"If you don't keep them lined up, things slow down,” West said as he cut one man’s hair. “They got 30 minutes to get in here and get out, get their clothing. They got stuff scheduled for them all the time. They have got a schedule all day long. If you throw them behind they'll be behind all day."

Barbers call out to the men standing on the lines. They use firm tones with them to show they’re not messing around. West’s colleague, Melissa Huchingson, said she has to talk in a certain way.

"You have to be kind of direct to give them some direction because they're kind of clueless,” she said.

But like West, she is not as mean as she appears to the nervous young enlistees. From Mohawks to blue and pink hair, Huchingson said she’s seen it all.

"I've seen everything I think you can imagine,” she said. “I can imagine back in Mr. West's days, the Beatles style haircuts that came in."

West said that despite their fear, the men are eager to take their place. It's a rite of passage.

"They look forward to this,” said West. “They know what they're going to get when they get here."

After three haircuts and eight weeks, the Airmen will be off to do their service. And West will be right here -- doing his service for his country.