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My first High and Tight by thadeusz
My parents, Ronald and Nathalie Volkert, lived in a small city in Colorado. My father was a commercial traveler and was thus frequently absent. Before getting married he had been a US Marine. My mother was a housewife: she was bored by the mediocre life she was forced to live in this small city.
My name is Fred. I went to a very ordinary school and I studied reasonably well. Following my father’s advice, as soon as my 5th grade was over, I joined the American Cadet Alliance, Marine option. My father said that it would give me "mental structures" which would help me during all my life. I stayed there several years as a cadet and as soon as I was old enough to go to High School, I joined their Marine Corps JROTC program again as a cadet. I excelled there.
This took me lots of time which could not be used for studies, but it also gave me the necessary credits to stay with the same group, since I was now a bad and lazy student. All that because I was now more busy taking care of Sylvana, my girlfriend than studying my maths and sciences books.
I still had relatively short hair, as required by the school rules, but no longer as short as when I was an ACA cadet or a JROTC cadet for the first year. This was not considered as satisfactory by Sylvana, but I had no time anymore to go to the barber.
Just before entering 12th grade, I learned that my mother was going away to the east Coast with her lover. I didn't even know that she had one! My father refused to give her a divorce claiming she should stay with me so I could study better for this important last highschool year. My mother refused, so in order to be closer to me my father changed jobs in order to be home every evening. In order to do that he accepted a lower salary, but I was no longer alone during my study hours.
During my 12th grade, I stopped JROTC to have more study time. Since I was no longer a JROTC cadet, I had no reason to keep my hair short. So, despite Sylvana’s opposition, I let my hair grow in order to have a Beatle look, because my father loved the Beatles.
Nevertheless I had a problem. I was really behind in my courses. I studied better now, but I no longer had the JROTC credits to help me. In fact I had been too long a lazy student, intelligent but lazy. I got my driver's licence, but I lost Sylvana because she did not like long Beatles-like hair. As a result of all that, I failed my 12th grade and had no diploma, it was thus difficult for me to get a job.
My mother had left, abandoning her husband and her only son, but my father stayed and tried to help me. He arranged things so that I could study one year in a special institution in Colorado Springs where I would prepare my GED every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, but spend all the rest of my time training as a mechanic, which was in fact my dream. My father paid for the school, he also paid for a little room and he left some money in a bank. This bank had been instructed to give me a little bit of money, once a week, for my food and other necessities, but I had no access to the total sum. My father also granted a divorce to my mother, exactly as she had asked one year ago. He then left for San Francisco where he had been promised a much better job, leaving me alone with just his phone number.
I remained alone but not really free. I studied seriously: I knew that this was my last chance. Every Sunday, I worked in a McDonald's to have a little bit more cash for drinks with my friends in the institute. I did no longer spend money on my hair which became long, shoulder length, and even longer than that!
Finally I got my GED and my diploma as a mechanic, but I had no more money: the bank money was up. So was the amount paid to my room’s owner. Luckily, he was a kind man and let me stay one more week in order to find a job. He warned me, if there was still no money at the end of the week, he would take all my possessions and sell them to cover this advance.
I searched during several days for a job and I found none. Finally, the Institute gave me a list of five garages where they were searching for a young mechanic. In the first 4 ones, I was not accepted, probably because of my long hair. In the 5th one the owner told me that he could hire me as an apprentice, provided I accepted to cut my hair. My diploma enabled me to get a better job, but I had no time for searching anymore. So, I accepted and I had an appointment for the same day before 5pm to show my haircut and get an advance pay. It was thus urgent for me to have a serious haircut in order to get some money for my room … and things.
I warned my room’s owner that I was going to have a decent job starting the next day, and a reasonable paycheck. This guy asked me:
"When will you have that paycheck ?"
"Every Saturday, and I already get something this evening provided I get a haircut today, before 5pm."
"How many do you still have to pay for that haircut ?"
"I only have 60 dollars left and I have not eaten yet."
"That’s too much for a haircut, give me already 50 and I’ll keep your things till late this evening, but if you are not here before I go to bed, your 50 bucks will remain for me and your stuff also".
"How can you say that ?"
"If I don’t get my money in time, I’ll put all your possessions in a big bag, empty your room and sell the bag to recover the advanced rent"
I was stuck, so I gave him what he wanted, keeping only 10 bucks and I started to run through the city looking for a cheap barber. I went to many places and found nothing for 10 dollars. Eventually, I found an old barbershop, one on the outskirts of the city. The barber looked as old as his shop and was alone without anyone waiting. I entered and asked him:
"How much for a decent haircut, short but not too short ?"
"Starting with hair as long as yours my boy ?"
"Yes, they must be short before 5 pm."
"Well for hair like yours, I would normally charge 30 dollars, but for you I’ll make a special price since you are in a hurry, it will thus be 40 dollars for you and your long mane. A shame you want to cut it !"
"You can’t say that, I really need an urgent haircut and I only have 10 bucks left."
"Tell me your story, my boy."
So I told him my complete story including the fact that I needed to have a short haircut to have an underpaid job and an advanced pay in order to pay my room owner and save my things from destruction.
The barber was a nice fellow after all. He replied:
"I’ll give you what you need. Sit in one of the chairs and let me work."
I sat in the first chair. He caped me and I did not move anymore, anyway I was hungry: I had had no breakfast and no lunch and it was already 2 pm.
The barber looked at me and started to work. He pulled my hair and then started to to do something in my back while explaining
"I am going to give you a High and Tight, but I’ll need some time because of the mass of hair you kept, during years I guess."
That frightened me, so I only thought about what he had said and I replied:
"No, not a High and Tight, that’s too much of the military type."
"Then, for your 10 bucks, the only thing I can do is a plain buzzcut."
"That would be worse for my future job."
"I don’t think so, young mechanic, but you are here with only 10 bucks. Let me help you !
I had not noticed, but he had already cut a lot and kept working in such a way that I could not see what he was doing. Suddenly I started feeling what he was doing: he was using his clippers on the side of my head and now there was nothing I could do to change the course of events if I wanted a decent haircut, even an unwanted one !
The barber gave me a short High and Tight, very short on the sides, nearly reduced to nothing. But he had left a relatively decent lot of hair on the top of the head. I complained that this was a military haircut, despite everything I had said. But the barber replied:
"Certainly not a military haircut: it is much too long according to regulations. If you really want to know what actual military haircuts look like, go one block further down and past the corner you will find the entrance of an Air Force Base. Look at the airmen near the base and at their haircuts."
"I didn’t know that there was such a Base."
"Boy, that’s why I am so cheap and why I can give such good High and Tights".
I took my wallet, paid the required 10 bucks and left. By sheer curiosity, I went to the gate of the Air Force Base to look at the airmen’s haircuts.
Near the gate, there was a Chief Master Sergeant who was obviously drunk, but he was in uniform and with Chief Master Sergeant stripes. He asked me what I was doing there in civvies and added that my haircut was not short enough. He suddenly told me, with a really drunk voice:
"Go immediately inside, put your uniform on and run to the Base barber."
My reply was short but polite:
"I will do no such thing, I am not in the military."
"With such a haircut you must be in the Air Force. So, obey my orders. Otherwise I will consider that you are AWOL and if you continue to disobey, you will be in big trouble."
"I have never been in the military. The closest I got was when I was a Marine Corps JROTC cadet."
"In that case, you must be a deserter."
Suddenly the drunken CSM called the sentry and told him to arrest me. I was looking at this with an amused look but also some bewilderment: how could a sensible man be so drunk !
The Chief Master Sergeant gave a direct order to the sentry, who was an MP:
"Arrest this deserter, give him a proper Air Force uniform, shave his head and lock him in the brig until his situation has been cleared".
The MP replied:
"Sir, I am not sure this man is an airman. I have never seen him on this Base."
"Well in this case he might be a spy. Do exactly what I told you, it is a direct order."
The MP looked at me, got hold of me before I had time to leave the premisses and simply said:
"Young man, this Chief Master Sergeant is obviously drunk, but he is a Chief Master Sergeant ! So I must obey his direct order unless you can prove your identity."
And suddenly I couldn’t find my wallet with my driver's license. I told the guards that I had probably left it at the barber’s, but they did not listen. As a consequence, I was not able to prove my identity and certainly not that I was in fact a civilian.
The MP barked an order to another Airman, and this man brought me forcibly to the brig. He told me: "Take off all your clothes."
"But they are my only clothes and I have an important appointment."
"If you don’t obey, I will have to rip them away."
"My appointment is really vital."
"Nothing outside the Air Force is vital. I have orders, so do what I say if you don’t want to be in more trouble. And do it fast!"
I obeyed, hoping it would not last long before I was released. I had my fatal 5pm meeting with my future boss in mind. I also thought about my meeting with my landlord !
The Airman gave me undies and a typical US Air Force overall. It was in a sort of green fabric with a belt made in the same fabric and the word "PRISONER" in the back. This Airman told me to put it on "immediately".
He then made me sit on a chair and started methodically and brutally to shave what was left from my long hair. When he was done, he pushed me into a cell and the door was brutally closed and then locked behind me. I decided to pass my hand on my head and I realized that he had given me a very short buzz cut. I was left with only short stubbles. My watch and my phone had been taken away with all my clothes. In that cell, I had only a sort of bench, in fact a metallic plank attached by chains to the wall. There was also a cover on the plank and a tiny window with bars, placed very high, near the ceiling. I was left there for several hours and finally another guard opened the door and gave me a metallic bowl with some food in it, a plastic spoon and a glass of water. He then brutally closed the door and locked it. After some time, the lights went out and I realized that it was night, thus past 5 pm. My job was gone and all my stuff also.
I did the only thing that was left to me: I decided to lie down on the bench using the cover as cushion. I must admit that I slept well and that I only woke up when the guard entered the cell with another bowl of food, another plastic spoon and another glass of water. He started speaking:
"My boy, now you must stand up, get washed," (there was a small sink) "and you must fold your cover and raise your plank."
"Why do you keep me here, I am not in the military."
"That’s none of my business. I am only your guard and I’ll keep you here as long as I am not told to set you free."
And he left, closing and locking the cell door.
I spent 5 days in that cell, getting more and more desperate. Not knowing what I had done wrong, or better just knowing that a drunkard with authority had pushed me there and then forgotten everything. Finally, on the fifth morning, the guard entered my cell and told me:
"Quickly, follow me to the Colonel."
"I will follow you as soon as I am clean and after I get my breakfast, I am NOT in the military so I don't have to obey your orders."
"But it is the Colonel," said the guard nearly in despair.
"Bring me some food, leaving this damn door open. I will get ready for your damn Colonel"
I did not believe my eyes, but the guard left the cell in a hurry, brought back some food and water and told me to get ready as soon as possible. He also tried to remind me that he had always been "kind" with me. I had not noticed that, but I admitted that he felt bad and I told him that I was not angry for this stupid and illegal imprisonment. What purpose would my anger have served ?
I took my time to eat and get clean. After that I followed this stupid guard who brought me to the Colonel. There I found an intelligent man who said:
"I am sorry that you were arrested and put in military prison, but the guards did not know who you were and they had been instructed to strictly obey the orders. Now we know who you are: your wallet with your driver's license has been found at the barber !"
"I told them to look there!"
"But they had to obey the Chief Master Sergeant, and not you. The guards are in the military, they are not free to do whatever they want."
"So, I am free to leave this place now ?"
"Young man, I hope that you have not been too badly treated during these 5 days. I know the Chief Master Sergeant was drunk, and he will be severely punished for that, but I ask you not to introduce a formal complaint against him: this would ruin his career."
"Colonel, I have nothing to lose anymore. So, if your Chief Master Sergeant’s career is ruined, that's good for me: he destroyed mine."
The Colonel asked me to explain what I meant by "destroying my career": was I planning to request compensation for these five days in the brig ? I told him everything that was at stake for me, my job and my belongings which were now lost. In fact, I took a long time to tell him all my story.
The Colonel thought for a few minutes, he asked me more questions and started to make notes on a big document. He then suggested that I should "play" for a few minutes on a computer in order to sort out the whole problem. In fact, he was suggesting that I filled in a special form. I mentioned there that I had a GED, a diploma as mechanic and a driver's license but no place where to sleep and no money left. While I was doing that, the Colonel gave very discreetly a phone call which I could not overhear.
The Colonel studied what I had produced and told me:
"You can now go away forgetting everything, but without any of your belongings. You can also sign the document based on my notes and on the computer game you just played. In that case, you will be saved."
"How ? And what happens with the Chief Master Sergeant ?"
"The Chief Master Sergeant will be punished: he will have to spend five days in the brig for being drunk and five other days in the same cell for giving illegal orders about you."
"And that’s all ? What about my job and my things ?"
I was really furious then, but the Colonel remained very calm. He explained his plan:
"As soon as you sign here, you become an Air Force recruit. You will get food, clothes and shelter in this Base until you go to your Basic Military Training. After that, you will have a good job. With your diplomas, I will claim you as driver and mechanic. You will be in the Air Force during 4 years, plus 4 years Inactive Reserve."
"And the Chief Master Sergeant ?" was my last attempt to get a solid compensation for the loss of freedom I had suffered.
"He will be your superior, and that’s it ! Forget him ! I already phoned and he will get your stuff back and he will pay personally your landowner. UNDERSTOOD ? It is take it or leave it."
The Colonel added:
"Do you have any JROTC credit ?"
"Of course I do, that’s how I succeeded to complete my 11th grade."
"In that case, I will change your enlistment from 4 years + 4 Inactive Ready Reserve to 6 years active duty + 2 years Reserve. With your JROTC credits you will be promoted to Airman First Class at the end of Basic Military Training, and a few months later, provided you work well, you will become a Senior Airman. From there you can easily become NCO provided you keep working well, which I am convinced you are going to do."
Ranks and promotions were piling up on the Colonel’s desk and I could no longer follow. It made me dizzy, but that was maybe the purpose!
The Colonel finally said:
"You have no home anymore, and it is our fault. So you will stay here until you are sent to Basic Military Training. It will not be for free, you will work as a mechanic with the Sergeant responsible for this section. But this time of pre-service will be counted later as Time in Service to help you get a rapid promotion. So sign now and stop asking about the Chief Master Sergeant."
"Thank you, but I need time to realize."
"Sign, and quickly: I don’t have more time for you."
I thought about this option for a few seconds, but the Colonel did not leave me more time. Then I signed and the Colonel congratulated me.
"Congratulations Recruit Volkert."
But the Colonel started to shout, no longer kindly:
"As of now, when you address me, you start with COLONEL. You are a recruit now, no longer a civilian. UNDERSTOOD recruit Volkert ?"
"YES SIR, recruit ! Learn military politeness rapidly if you don’t want to go back to the brig"
The kindness of the Colonel seemed to have completely disappeared but it was too late, I had signed for 6 years!
The Colonel called for Sergeant Mitchel, the man responsible for my future section, and told him to give me more equipment without the infamous label "prisoner" and to let me sleep in his room. I got more clothes, only overalls and undies, good shoes and a bed. In the Sergeant’s room, I found a big plastic bag containing most of my stuff. At least my diplomas and my computer were there.
I also had the authorization to eat with the Sergeant in the NCO mess, and after my prisoner’s grub, it was darned good. The next day, work started and my only pay was the food I received. I did no longer eat with the Sergeant, but I ate now with the Enlisted men. Some of the Airmen had pity for the poor guy I seemed to be: they gave me money to buy a beer. Sergeant Mitchel appeared from nowhere and asked me how old I was. When I told him that I was 19, he said:
"Old enough to be killed at war, but too young to drink alcohol. Recruit, abandon that beer. You can only drink Coke or Coffee."
I was soon shipped to Lackland Air Base. Shipped is the best word for what happened to me: I was placed in a bus, with other boys my age, like a parcel given to a post office and landed in Lackland Air Force Base. That day, I was again wearing my old civvies for the first time since I stopped being a free man.
As soon as I arrived at the Base, with others, the induction process started. I first got a total haircut. It was done by an Air Force Barber using something I had never seen nor even imagine: special clippers-aspiring. The barber was very fast but not brutal. He first caped me and told me not to move. He then placed his left hand on the top of my head, where my hair had started to grow a little bit. He then passed his special clippers on my head, from my forehead to the basis of my nape. He did that exactly in the middle of my head. In fact, he did not really move his clippers: I had the impression that he presented my head to his aspiring machine and moved my head so that every hair in a line could be aspired by this damned thing. There wasn’t any hair on my lap or on the floor. He then used his left hand to turn, push and pull my head, all that silently, rapidly but gently. As a result of that, I felt lots of cold on the top of my head but I had been warned by the Aimen with which I ate: "Don’t move, don’t complain, don’t say nothing and you will soon feel better." The barber pushed my head to the left and then to the right in order to let his machine aspire all the remaining hair on the sides of my head. Finally he released me, silently. I passed my hand on my head: I now had a complete baldy. I also got several sets of uniforms and shoes. I was fully equipped, fully dressed and did not at all look like a civilian anymore. In order to cover my baldy, I had a simple cap. The garrison cap was with the rest of my new clothes in a big bag.
Of course, I had been warned that this was not an Air Force present: everything, haircut included, would be deduced from my future pay.
We, the recruits, were then marched to a big hall where there were many beds, each with his small cupboard. I had always slept alone in my room, except during my first weeks in the Air Force Base when I was sleeping with the Sergeant commanding me. Now a new period of my life had come: as long as I was not promoted to Staff Sergeant, I would have to sleep with others in a dorm. My first night in the military was difficult: I had to adjust to this big dorm.
My hair started to grow again and I made friends with the other new recruits. After 4 weeks we were marched to the barber hall. Now we were really marching like good little soldiers. We had a good Training Instructor. We went again through the same process, with the clippers aspiring whatever they had cut. We also received our nametags. My friends received many letters, I was one of the rare recruits left without any mail.
We went further through the Basic Military Training, learning again and again to do the same movements and to say the same words, chosen for their "military politeness". Four weeks later we went again through the barber hall and we were left with no hair at all for graduation.
When the end of this Basic training was finally in sight, I wrote to my parents to let them know where I was and what was happening with me. My mother did not reply. On the contrary my father came all the way from Northern California to attend the graduation process. He was there for our last run, on the day before graduation. I had not noticed him during the run. I was thinking of running well in order to satisfy my Training Instructor, but I was also thinking of my friends: most of them had a parent present, a person who could come and fetch them after the run was accomplished to take them out during Liberty. I thought that this would not be the case for me, that it was my fault if things didn’t go as well as I had hoped. And suddenly I saw my father in front of me!
In any case, after that run my Training Instructor gave me my Airman Coin and told me that he had selected me as a Honor Graduate.
The next day was our parade and my promotion to Airman First Class. My father was very moved. He took me with him during my rare hours of Liberty and we had an excellent meal.
Somebody else appeared from nowhere during my graduating parade, with my Honor Grad ribbon: my Colonel! Well the Colonel of my Air Base, who congratulated me. It was my turn to be moved. He had arranged things so that, on the basis of my mechanic diploma, I was dispensed of any technical training. It is thus as Airman First Class that I came back to what was as of now MY Base. I was used to dorm life now, and I had no problem joining a few other Airmen and living with them.
I became the Colonel’s driver and mechanic. After a few years I was promoted to Senior Airman and prepared to become an NCO. A few months later I got married to Sylvana. We moved to a small house on the campus.
We have now two children (a boy and a girl) and I am a Technical Sergeant, hoping to become Staff Sergeant soon.
I feel that I finally have a good life. I keep my hair short but I regret that I have not been kidnapped (as I keep saying) by the Army: they wear berets instead of garrison caps and that means that they can keep more hair.