When it comes to being deployed at sea in a 684 foot-long, 24,900 ton machine known as the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS New York (LPD 21), the last thing service members might think about are haircuts. But for two Marines, grooming is their main mission.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tio Viel and Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Gomez, both assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (VMM 162) Reinforced (REIN), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), have been cutting hair since Oct. 2017, when the unit was assisting in hurricane relief efforts in Key West, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico in support of Defense Support to Civil Authorities.
“I volunteered for this,” said Viel, a low-altitude air defense (LAAD) gunner with the unit. “My unit needed to give up Marines for ship’s tax, and I raised my hand. I was excited for barber duty, it was an opportunity to learn a new skill. I was nervous my first time giving a haircut, but after a week of cutting hair and learning from my mistakes, I started to be proficient at it.”
Ship’s tax is a collateral duty in which Marines and Sailors are selected for services in order to maintain daily functions aboard the ship, such as cooking food, cleaning dishes, ship store services, and cutting hair for a period of a month. For Viel and Gomez, they’ve performed so well as barbers, they’ve performed above and beyond the normal call of duty for ship’s tax.
“I usually get my haircut from Gomez, he always gives me a fresh fade,” said Sgt. Thomas Abadie, a military policeman with the 26th MEU. “I trust him with my haircuts because I know he has gained experience over the past couple of months, both of them put in a lot of work and dedication to what they do.”
While a necessary duty for Marines and Sailors aboard naval ships, ship’s tax isn’t always a sought out job.
“I wasn’t looking forward to ship’s tax,” said Gomez, a helicopter airframe mechanic with VMM 162. “A couple of the Marines from my unit got selected for ship’s tax and to decide which one of us got barber, we played a game of ‘nose goes’ and I lost. I thought it was going to suck but it isn’t so bad. I put on my music while I cut and ask everyone how their day is going, I really like it now.”
Now, Gomez and Viel are deployed to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations and continue to give haircuts in order to maintain grooming standards for the crew while aboard the ship.
“Being on a deployment is different, I’m grateful to be here,” said Viel. “I pretty much know everyone at this point. Gomez and I give about 50 haircuts a day, and together we have given about 2,000 haircuts.”
Gomez and Veil manage to maintain two jobs while deployed. Using time management skills and proper planning, they manage to help the unit in more ways than one - as barbers by day and LAAD gunner or airframe mechanic by night.
“Even the smallest jobs aboard the ship can have a significant impact on the mission regardless of what the job entails,” said Gomez. “There is always something to do. When I’m not cutting hair, I’m working with my unit and help them maintain some of the aircraft, or participate in some of the training they offer us.”
At the end of the day once the hair has been swept and the clippers stop buzzing, Gomez and Veil open a green record book sitting on the edge of the table and count the number haircuts they’ve given, and read the comments they leave behind, “Great job!” “Thank you for the cut,” “definitely coming back!”