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Marine barbers often have little training, lots of customers

CAMP MATILDA, Kuwait—PFC Marcus Orie, 21, is a rarity among Marine barbers: He's actually been to barber school.

For the rest, training is less than formal. But then again you might not really need it: Marines only have three hairstyles—the "high and tight" flattop; the clipped short, and shaved.

"Someone left a set of clippers in my barracks room at Camp Pendleton, so I decided to bring them out here," recalls Orie of his selection as barber. In his civilian life, Orie teaches ballroom dancing in Newport News, Va. He was doing two weeks training at Camp Pendleton in California before coming to Kuwait with the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion when he spotted the clippers.

"I knew people would need haircuts," said Orie.

Haircuts are part of the routine for the 4th. Fresh haircuts are expected to be in evidence Monday morning, so Sunday evening is the busiest. The barracks barbershop usually opens each evening in front of the tents—or wherever electricity is available. Usually, several "barbers" have set up shop.

The 4th, with about 600 reservists and 50 active military members, has assembled in the desert but is still waiting for its 27-ton tracked vehicles to arrive by ship. It's the first full mobilization for the unit since World War II.

Orie said cutting hair evenly isn't as easy as it appears.

"It depends on the type of hair, clean or dirty, and the grade," he said.

Orie likes having something to do.

"It's something to help out the fellow Marines, being that it's a talent I have," he said.

Cpl. Doug Shepherd, of Beaumont, Miss., is proof that becoming a camp barber requires only a pair of clippers and a willing client.

"I do a fair job," said Shepherd, who has the genes, perhaps; his father was a barber. A reservist who in civilian life is a K-9 police officer, Shepherd thinks good barbers are plentiful.

"Perry does my hair," he said, referring to Cpl. Mike Perry, an air conditioning technician from Mobile, Ala. "He does a good job."

Other Marine barbers aren't sure how they got their job.

"I think I got volunteered," said Cpl. Christopher Allen of Norfolk, Va.

He, too, had experience—clipping the hair of his two sons.

"I started training on myself," said the 29-year-old reservist, who works for a waterworks supplier in civilian life.

Allen left the Marine Corps for a brief period. His discharge papers from the reserves came in the mail on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He re-enlisted four days later and was mobilized early this year.

Though the barbers sometime get tips or favors, they don't, as a matter of tradition, make a business of giving haircuts.

"I don't charge them anything," said Allen. "We're all here. We're all going to be bald."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): barbers