One veteran's journey in pursuit of perfect 'Army hair'

Army Hair veteran with the perfect bun. (Photo: Army Hair)
Army Hair veteran with the perfect bun. (Photo: Army Hair)

The women behind Army Hair, an online community connecting military women and providing hair and career tips, are sharing their unique stories in a new column on Yahoo Lifestyle. In their introductory post, they tackle the feat of perfect “Army hair.”

I remember being so new to the Army that I didn’t even know how to comb my hair. I had hair all my life, but Army life? That’s something I didn’t know about yet.

You are looking at the byline now, aren’t you? How can a girl who calls herself “Army Hair” not know how to comb it?! I’m a veteran now in so many aspects of my Army identity. I’ve served more than 15 years, gone to war and back a couple of times, led one soldier, led hundreds of soldiers, jumped out of planes, roped out of helicopters, lived amazing days, and I’m more than halfway through the 10,000 hours required to achieve mastery in combing my hair for Army life.

When the Army trains a soldier, it first provides a challenging but mostly safe environment in which to teach, train, and grow skills. These skills are then reinforced through repetition and committed to muscle memory. This was also true for the evolution of combing my hair for the Army.

My hair story starts with the land navigation course (you know, using a compass and a map to find things) in the woods of Missouri. After crawling through some brush while searching for a point on the map, I felt something heavy settle on my shoulders and wrap around my neck. I panicked and ran, arms flailing, legs high-stepping, and constricted little yelps coming from my mouth.

Army Hair veteran with undone hair. (Photo: Army Hair)
Army Hair veteran with undone hair. (Photo: Army Hair)

About 200 yards later, I finally got it off me. As I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my embarrassing dash of terror, and realized it wasn’t a snake. My bun had come undone, and my long hair unleashed itself in a heavy coil around my neck, causing me to toss my map board and run for my life. Relief washed over me as I rewrapped my bun and realized I was completely alone and no one would ever have to know.

I retraced my steps to collect my map and pencil, crawling again through brush where snakes might live. “There has got to be a better way,” I thought.

This is how I started my journey to seek that better way and learn to do my hair like an Army hair veteran. I started by asking anyone with neat Army hair how they did it. My sheltered hair world opened up as I was introduced to fake buns, donut foam, and weaves. Add in deployments, field time, and high-visibility events, and I was really moving towards a semblance of Army hair mastery.

Did I mention that I can redo a floppy bun in a formation run without breaking stride? Actually, now I work towards not having a floppy bun … ever. Some of the newer women soldiers might be scratching their heads right now, thinking, “Why did you have to wear a bun to run?” The current Army regulation that allows us to wear a ponytail in our workout uniform was only added in 2015! 2015! I’m so old-school that I think I’ve only worn the ponytail like three times since then I like to hold onto my knobby bun when I do sit-ups.

My Army hair is a bridge and a connection to every single woman who has ever served in the military. One of my soldiers used the term “hair anxiety” for the fear of having hair that is not within regulation, and described feeling this anxiety as she got ready each morning. As a veteran student of Army regulations, I don’t have this anxiety, but I totally get it. Soldiers constantly check each other out to gauge how “squared-away” another soldier is. Generally, this once-over starts at the chest where our rank is located, then moves to the badges above our chest pockets that serve as short-cuts for others to infer our grit, up to the face where men ensure the other has shaved, and then to the hair for both sexes, because we each have our own regulations for how our hair can look. It doesn’t end there.

Next are the patches on the shoulder pockets, which I sometimes still Velcro on the wrong side — I get corrected when I show up for work. (I usually put these on these in haste or when I’m really tired — I promise I’m working on paying better attention to this detail; it’s been, like, a month since the last time it had to be corrected.) The once-over finishes down at the boots, making sure your laces are tucked in. This once-over is a quick check to see that you project a level of presence and military bearing that brings honor to the finest military traditions. Our evaluations even include a section for this. I think it is important to look the part, and indeed, bring honor to the legacy of those who wore the uniform before us and fought to secure our freedom. Also, I know this is not typical for a woman but I hate picking out my clothes, and I love that my boots are always comfortable (compared to high heels).

On this Veteran’s Day, I hope that you will take a moment to acknowledge the journey required to become a veteran. Plenty of us were just kids straight out of high school who went to basic combat training to be broken down and built back up as stronger versions of ourselves. Some of us ran through the woods being attacked by fake snakes, or had other experiences that involved being placed in an unfamiliar environment and asked to succeed at a difficult task. Every journey to become a veteran has been earned through hardship, sacrifice, pride, and personal growth. It takes grit to volunteer and say, “This I will defend.”

In my case, it has taken all of these things — and exceptionally good Army hair.

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