The havoc unleashed by the indiscriminate COVID-19 pandemic has not only ravaged the respiratory systems of the American public and U.S. military alike, but jeopardized a well-oiled machine hell-bent on maintaining readiness and tradition as well.
Defense Department travel has been suspended, mass formations canceled or amended to meet social distancing requirements, work-from-home policies encouraged when possible, and grooming standards relaxed to, in the very least, keep service members away from the cramped confines of barber shops.
That is unless it comes to the hard-charging tonsoriums at Marine Corps installations like Camp Pendleton in California, where it was announced Friday that barbers would remain open in order to preserve a high-and-tight heritage that forms the very foundation of nearly 245 years of esprit de corps.
“In today’s challenging environment, the barbershops are providing Marines and sailors with essential services,” the base announced in a video Friday.
The California Department of Public Health recently classified “essential services” throughout the state as establishments like gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, and laundromats.
Barber shops were inexplicably absent from that list.
And yet, the Marine Corps beats on, boats against the logical current, borne back ceaselessly into a motivated past.
Upon learning of the base’s decision, celebratory trumpets and cries of “Errah!” and “Yut!” — the volume of which was comparable only to the shout at the Battle of Jericho — thundered like beacons all the way from the beaches of Del Mar to the wildfire-scorched hills of San Mateo.
To deny a Marine a skin fade on a Sunday, after all, is to disrupt the natural order of things. Therefore, it is the duty of barber shop employees — not Marine Corps leadership — to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
“Each barber is provided gloves, mask, alcohol, and Lysol to clean all touch points and barber chairs,” the video continued.
What barbers are not provided, however, are weed-whackers, the only tool manufactured to successfully cut hair while simultaneously adhering to social distancing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Practically speaking, a haircut using the landscaping apparatus would result in no more blood-letting than those performed by the heavy-handed employees at MCRD San Diego or Parris Island.
Still, barbers remain undeterred, eager to locate, close-with and cut the hair of patrons in order to enhance readiness and lethality.
Teacher says, “Every time a Marine first sergeant receives a flat-top horseshoe haircut, an angel gets its wings.”
“The barbershops aboard the installation will continue to monitor the environment and quickly adapt to keep their employees and patrons safe while using their services,” the video said.
What additional adaptations can be made in an environment that consists of a barber shop and the un-groomed heads of Marines is difficult to imagine.
But in these trying times common sense is an uncommon virtue, and as Captain William Bligh famously remarked during the 1789 mutiny aboard the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty, “The haircuts will continue until morale improves, 'rah?”
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.