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Joining up. Part 2 by Stillcropped
After an evening with a mixture of ridicule, tears and celebration I was on the train at 6 am the following morning on my way to camp for my basic training. The journey was just short of 2 hours and as I got off at the remote country station there was no mistaking who was meeting me , as a huge man dressed in army fatigues , holding a clipboard barked at me as I approached 'good afternoon, name?' As I gave him my name and added a 'sir' at the end of it he roared 'Sir! Do I look like a sir! You call me Sarge. Bag in the trailer, you in the truck. MOVE!'
I saw a large army truck with a trailer at the side of it with a few bags in it, I dropped mine beside them and climbed into the back of the truck and found another four lads already there. We nodded hello's to each other but nobody really spoke and just stared at the truck floor, another train arrived and two more boarded then the back board was secured the sergeant jumped into the cab and we were off. The wind howled into the truck as we made our way deep into rural countryside, eventually one of the boys spoke up while lighting a cigarette and one by one we introduced ourselves. 'That's some haircut!' One of the guys said nodding towards me, I instinctively ran my hand over my shorn skull and laughed 'Well I was sort of advised it would be well, be sort of, expected'
Everyone burst out laughing at his reply 'you joining the Buddhist's then?'
I looked at his long locks and thought back to the day before when mine had been like that , the last lad to get on had what I now knew to be a regular's cut and he spoke up ' I got mine done yesterday , gave my mates a laugh, anyone know where we are going?' A guy furthest in who sported a short crew-cut spoke up ' According to my Dad who's just completed 15 years to the coldest, most remote training camp in the land, and we will all be getting a haircut today including you, (and he nodded in my direction) so you all wasted your cash at the barbers yesterday' we all fell silent and I thought back to the barbers 'Regulations' words yesterday.
Eventually the truck pulled to a halt deep in the hills and as the backboard was released the freezing seven of us were ordered out, but as we jumped down the sergeant singled out the boy with the regular haircut ' why are you not in uniform?' The boy stared at him then stammered 'I don't have one , yet!' Which was met with 'Then why do you have a soldiers haircut?' A five second stare then he marched off shouting ' Follow me sharpish, including soldier boy' we all sort of fell in behind him and found ourselves in a cold classroom along with another group who were already seated at desks. As I took my seat I looked out of the window another two trucks pulled up and the occupants joined us in the classroom and the door was slammed shut behind us by the sergeant who marched and stood to attention at e front of the room 'these three stripes mean sergeant you will address me and anyone else with three stripes as sarge! You will do as you are told nothing more or less! For my sins you are mine for the next 26 weeks, looking at you i don't expect many of you to survive. Any questions? No,good' he then passed out a sheaf of light blue forms to each of us along with a pen telling us to start filling the forms, he also placed a cardboard box on the table at the front stating ' this is your last chance to get rid of any weapons or chewing gum you have brought in. Both are banned, put them in here as you pass by and that will be that,Any found after you leave this room will result in a charge'
A moment later a door opened behind him 'Ready Sarge, send the first one in' the sergeant tapped a long haired lad on the shoulder 'Through there, don't forget the box' as he passed he dropped a packet of gum in,moments later we all heard the unmistakable buzzing of hair clippers,the barber was behind the door, and less than two minutes later he was back sporting a 'regular's ' haircut, my heart sank as I thought of the shorn head I now had the,sarge barked 'you stand still!, the rest of you eyes front! He then approached the boy 'This is a regular's haircut, side parting, short and flat on top, sides no more than mid ear, (turn around) back square cut 1 inch above the collar.Sit. You ( he pointed at the back of the room and towards the barber with his thumb) next, box' the next victim went through his hair not too long as he entered the back room he ran his fingers through his locks. The buzzing didn't last long and he came back through sporting a short crew cut 'stand still. This you lot is a basic training cut, low maintenance dries quickly.Sit! On you go' it was the guy from my truck with the crew cut his was only marginally longer than the basic training cut we had just seen and still way longer than my skinhead , which was the shortest in the room. Seconds later he was back out and low groan was heard , he automatically stopped at the front for the sergeants comments ' ah the new recruit cut or as as they call it in civvies street a skinhead' his hair had been shorn to 1/4 inch all over.'this is our no maintenance version save you on shampoo.You don't escape ( he was looking right at me ) go!' The room was small with a simple wooden chair and a small round mirror on the wall the barber a civilian 'thought you would escape this did you?' He asked as I sat down 'no I was told it was regulation'
'It is, (click bbzzzzz the teeth on my forehead) don't worry everyone get's taken down to zero first day, even the ones I've just done, it's the Sargent's little game, head down, and his hand on the top of my head I lowered my chin and felt the teeth being pressed against my skin high up my neck, he let go his grip and I saw the the clippers edging out a high arc around my right ear shaving the hair below it clean, as they reached the top of my ear he laid them flat and square against my temple leaving a thin white line, he then ran the clippers straight up the side to the line shaving me bald, the left side followed and I was done. My hand reached up and I rubbed what felt like sandpaper on my scalp. As I re-entered the classroom the groan of before turned to a Wow! Of shock, I now knew the drill and stood at the front all the eyes on me, Sarge approached ' Gentlemen this ( he pointed at my head) is the 'Entry Level' -we are going to strip you of everything you previously were and turn you into soldiers - starting with your hair! You will get this 6am every Monday morning until I say otherwise. Understood?' There was a murmured 'Yes Sarge' then a Roar 'What was that?' And a loud 'YES SARGE!' I stood there as good as bald as the sergeant continued 'soldier boy! -and looked directly at the boy with the 'regular' haircut , the same one I had sported the day before- you will sweep up all the hair for the barber and be shorn last. Understood?'
'And Soldier boy, if I find one hair on the floor in there after you have finished I will personally shave you smooth as a billiard ball. UNDERSTOOD ?'
His face turned bright red then white 'Yes Sarge' And then 3 at a time my fellow recruits lined up for the barber and in just over Half an hour the classroom was filled with row after row of cactus like skulls bent over pages of paperwork.
The entry level cuts were carried out for three consecutive Monday's, but truthfully such was the intensity of the training we couldn't have cared less, another four weeks passed and we were reduced to a skinhead new recruit by the barber, there were a few complaints as none of us had much cover on the top of our heads. Our number had been reduced by six by the time we were allowed a basic training crew cut in week 13 and were allowed to gauge ourselves when it needed a tidy up although few of us took chances as 2 of our group were ordered back to a 'new recruit' for 'unkempt hair'
The training was very tough and there were times when I didn't think I would make it , but we bonded and helped each other through and when the notice went up '48 hour home pass at end of week 18' there was considerable celebration which was cut short by Sarge 'in your enthusiasm in getting away from here you may have overlooked the small print 'subject to regulations' which in short means , I have the final say' We had grown to respect him but also knew he had a mean streak 'now week 18 is 10 days away , any slacking WILL result in this priveledge being withdrawn either for an individual or for the group in total.UNDERSTOOD?'
A loud roar 'YES SARGE!'
For the next week he worked us really hard, long runs, short sleeps, numerous kit inspections you name it we got it. On the day before our leave was due we were back in the classroom we were in on day one, completing a written exam on map reading.After the exam we were going on a ten mile hike with full pack, and at the end of the exam we were surprised to see a familiar face enter the room - the camp barber.
The sarge addressed us ' we have a tradition here, you turned up here nearly 18 weeks ago straight from civvy street as a ramshackle bunch. You all look a lot better now but are far from the finished product, now when you come back from your home leave ( he paused as it sank in he had approved it and our faces lit up with the thought of home) you will go through your final 8 weeks before graduating. These 8 weeks are far tougher than anything you have been through, in fact it's like starting all over again so as we say it's our tradition that your folks at home see you as you were on entry level with us which effectively it will be on your return, so after your run it's back here for an Entry level haircut ( groans) then your leave starts 72 hours from 12.00 hours transport to the station at 12.30 ( cheers leave had been extended) no haircut no leave! Outside at the double?' As we set off on our run we moaned about the rules of our leave but pushed on so we were back in plenty of time to visit the barber. I was fourth in line and could see my roommate two ahead of me sit down and the clippers shear his half inch black hair to the scalp,in truth he was out of the chair in less than a minute when the next lad sat down again he was buzzed to a skinhead in seconds then it was me. As I sat down the clippers were poised when I spoke ' I thought we were getting an Entry Level, not a new recruit' the barber laughed 'just the Sarge's little joke, new recruit is good enough. He caught my eye in the small mirror ' hey I remember you, you were the first to get an EL you already had a NR when you sat here. He cleared his throat 'I'll give you an EL if you want ' a huge smile spread across my face 'it'll make my girlfriend really happy' and so the blades on the clippers were lowered my head pushed forward and the blades shaved away all the hair on my neck up to the bottom of my ears they carved a high arc around my ears and a lazer straight line level with my eyebrows , then up and over removing everything except a shadow of fine bristle, I was going home!