Being overseas on deployment does not normally alleviate service members from maintaining those appearance standards dictated by regulations. Sure, some smaller bases and Spec Ops types may get away with it, but in general (ESPECIALLY in Kuwait), its business as usual at the base barber shop. Now, the military does not have its own specialty for barbering. There is sometimes a barber kit in a unit and a couple of folk that know how to cut hair, but in general its not widespread. Going way back to even before the Civil War sutlers, civilian merchants have always played an important role in providing for the military. In fact, the vast majority of items used by the military (including weapons) are currently made by civilian contractors for them. Services are no exception either. Generally, the barber is a civilian either contracted locally to work on post or working directly for the government as an employee to cut hair. This is the same overseas...except the "civilian" cutting your hair is of the more "local" variety.
Commonly referred to as TCN's (Third Country Nationals), the civilian workforce hired overseas to work for the US is comprised of a wide array of individuals that do every chore from maintenance, cleaning, transportation and logistics to...yes, you guessed it...cutting hair. The majority of barbers I came across at Camp Arifjan were Indian or Pakistani. Yes, I know either one of those groups would probably be offended that I may have confused them, but to a American looking at both honestly I could not tell...but I believe that they were Indian. I have heard stories of a Turkish barber in Iraq that the Marines loved and have even run across a video of him. I did get my hair cut once in Afghanistan by a beautiful blond Russian women who totally knocked my socks off....not because she was pretty, but because I couldn't believe Russians could be caught dead in the country even after 15+ years (at the time) after their occupation ended.
As you can tell from this picture of me in Kuwait, I wore my hair in a high flat top...not too challenging for any barber over there. I wore it that way mostly because it was easy to maintain and I am what is normally called "lazy"...btw, this was the day I think we got temporarily "disoriented" and "may have" made an unauthorized excursion into Saudi Arabia...it "might have looked" like crossing into Indiana from Ohio...same dessert (or farmland in Ohio/Indiana) different place...
Now in the US the barber you go to generally will cut hair and thats about it. Occasionally you will find an old fashioned guy that will also offer shaving and such..but that is the exception rather than the rule. The damn hippie movement in the 60's slammed a HEAT round into the barber profession when men started to grow their hair long and did not return every 2 weeks or so to get their hair cut...damn shame. If you go to a "salon" style hair cutter you will get somebody that probably rotates stores frequently, will generally just cut a mans hair and thats it. Straight razors will normally not even be used in those establishments. Yes, I know its a regulated profession in most states with state licensing boards determining if and when a particular occupation may use strait razors, but I guarantee you will not find them in the salon shops.
This is a shame because the profession of barbering (from the Greek word "beard") goes back thousands of years and was at one time one of the more highly respected professions. Back in ancient Greece before the advent of the modern razor (or those damn Macedonians who pretty much made the daily shaving thing mandatory) the Greek gentlemen would go to the barber every couple of days to have his hair and beard trimmed to look neat and proper for a day at the Acropolis or what have you. More recently, up until the later part of the 19th century modern barbers would not only cut your hair and shave you, but also lance boils, perform minor surgery, stitch wounds, apply ointments and tonics and even perform some dentistry work in some areas.
While this level of attention may be dead in the states...the barber in Southwest Asia while (thankfully) not offering medical services does offer much more of a "hands on experience" to their customer. In addition to haircutting and shaving, most barbers over there will also perform a non-therapeutic massage at the end of your haircut. This massage will generally consist of some rapid rubbing and slapping of your head and shoulders that, while not as comfortable like a regular massage, still does provide a certain level of relaxation.
I found this out first hand one time over at Camp AJ. There are a number of "zones" on camp AJ that serve different functions. Zone 1 is the main permanent party living area, Zone 6 is the main TDY living area and Zone 2 houses the command and control offices and also some additional living areas. Any zone that houses people also generally has a PX area that has a barber shop. While generally got my hair cut in Zone 6 where I lived or at the big PX in Zone 1, one day I decided to get my hair cut on my lunch over in Zone 2 where I worked.
I walked in and it was surprisingly slow. A Indian fellow that seemed to be best at speaking English when the words were limited to "Yes", "OK" and "Good" (and that is not a slam against him...at least he knew some of my native tongue...all I know of Hindi is "namaste") motioned me to a chair and said something like "short...yes...ok" to which I nodded in the North-South manner in affirmation and he began to cut my hair. Occasionally as he cut the top of my hair (which remained a bit longer) he would brush his fingers back and forth quickly over my scalp apparently to get the hair to straighten up. The cut did not take long, I didn't have a whole lot to speak of to begin with.
Then something strange happened. He picked up a hand mirror so I could see my hair from the front and back in the mirror and asked "good...yes?" to which I again nodded in the affirmative. He then brushed off the back of my neck and took off the apron. I started to get up but felt his hand keep me down. I figured maybe he needed to brush my off again and sat back down. Both of his hands then came around the front of my head and he began to massage my forehead above my eyebrows moving back and forth to the side of my head. I was like "WTH!" for a sec but then thought "this is strange, but maybe this is how they do it in India...just go with the experience". Maybe I didn't want to startle him by jumping up or possibly offend him by telling him to stop...so I did indeed just go with it. I had of had several dozen haircuts over there by this point and this was the first time this had happened. But there were other people in the shop so I didn't get any freaky/weird/sexual vibe from it.
After a few moments on my forehead he again began to run his fingers vigorously across my scalp in rapid pattern. That actually felt pretty good, better that what was next. All of a sudden I feel these blows being reigned down on my head as he began to slap the sides and top of my head with his palms. Another "WTH" thought went through my head, quickly escalating to a "WTF" level and I almost ended it there. I "toughed" it out for another moment and felt him motioning me to lean forward, at what time he began to rub and slap my shoulders and back. Now, having back surgery less than 2 years prior (had some major issues with my back that had my physical profile keeping me from deploying, quick spinal fusion and I was deployable.....did it on my own insurance but I didn't want to spend "Gulf War 2" on the sidelines like Gulf 1) I was kind of worried that if he hammered a bit too hard I might be in trouble...but hell, after humping IBA and crap with it what was the worse that could happen? That went on for a few more moments and then it was back to the head rub for a few more minutes.
Then it was over. A haircut was only about $5 (US) to begin with so I tipped the guy the cost of the haircut ($10 total charge) on my Eagle card (kind of a bank card system that was/is in place overseas to keep troops from carrying cash). He seemed happy enough as I left and I really kind of enjoyed the experience. That was it. Never again did that happen over there. I would have felt stupid asking for another rub down so I never did from any of the other guys there. For all I know the guy was new and the other guys clued him in after he did me "hey, don't give these Americans any malish, they don't expect it and we get paid the same".
I have since found many videos online and found out that this type of massage is typical from barbers in the region. Matter of fact, here is one of a Marine getting a similar massage in Iraq...
Sadly, I doubt I will ever get any type of service like that again. Sure, Sport Clips will give you a head massage with your cut, but there was just something kind of different about the one I got that time that made it special.
Funny, something as mundane as a haircut could give you a insight into a culture from the other side of the world. Just another memory from the desert that remains in my head....