About-Face: Soldiers Target Stray Eyebrows in Afghanistan
Military Rules Forbid a Pluck Too Far; Some Try ‘Threading’ for Perfect Arch
SHINWAR, Afghanistan—Emerging amid the camouflage and crewcuts is the latest in combat chic: male soldiers with eyebrows professionally shaped into slender arches.
“I just wanted them to shape up my eyebrows,” explains Private First Class Richard Guillemette, whose job is to call in artillery barrages from the front lines.
The private’s first brow ‘do was an accident. He had asked for a haircut and shave at the Afghan barber shop on the U.S. Cavalry base here in Shinwar. Only when it was too late did he realize the barber was tackling uncharted territory. Using a straight-edge razor, the barber sculpted his eyebrows into thin arches, tapering into points at the flanks.
That was a month ago. Pfc. Guillemette, a 20-year-old from Lyman, Maine, decided he liked the look, and he has had two touch-ups since then.
“They were getting a little bushy,” he acknowledged in the chow hall recently.
Gulam Farooq, 21, camp barber at Forward Operating Base Joyce, near the Pakistan border, says Islam forbids eyebrow-shaping for Muslim men. But he happily performs the service, using a razor or a special threading technique, for an average of one or two U.S. soldiers a day. “I trained for it at a barber school in Kabul,” where religious strictures are less rigidly observed, he says.
These threaded, plucked or shaved young soldiers are proving befuddling to an older generation of bushier warriors. Army regulations are silent on the subject of male eyebrows, except to say that one’s hair must not reach so far south.
In 2007, however, the Marine Corps added a line to its grooming regulations stating that “excessive plucking or removal of eyebrows is not authorized, except for medical reasons.” The Marines left open the question of what constitutes a pluck too far, though the Corps did make a half-hearted, circular attempt to define what would count as eccentric and faddish (bad), compared with conservative and inconspicuous (good).
It was just last month that it suddenly dawned on Lt. Col. Jerry Turner, commander of 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, at Shinwar, that some young men under his command had eyebrows shapelier than Nature intended.
Lt. Col. Turner dismisses the trend as one of those kids-these-days mysteries of a younger generation. A tall 43-year-old from Sacramento, with an aw-shucks grin and free-range brows, the colonel just shakes his head when he spots pruned arches beneath camouflage caps.
“I don’t get it, I just don’t get it,” he says. “And you’re not going to get me to get it.”
Combat is a testosterone-soaked environment and the small minority of soldiers who practice extensive eyebrow-grooming can face some teasing.
When Pfc. Guillemette described his regimen in the chow hall one day, Sgt. Dan Mendez, a 25-year-old Cavalry scout from Spokane, mocked him from the next table: “I wish mine grew like that.”
The sergeant’s brows are medium thick. “It’s pretty obvious I don’t do mine,” he added quickly.
The owner of the plywood barbershop at the Shinwar base, Juma Khan Rahmudin, says Afghan men would never get their eyebrows shaped the way some American men do. But Afghans do pluck the stray whiskers from their cheekbones, he says, providing greater definition to their often-dense beards. “To each his own,” says Mr. Rahmudin, a 30-year-old blessed with well-separated eyebrows.
He offers soldiers 30-minute threading sessions, in which he twists thread around unwanted eyebrow hairs and yanks them out in a clean line.
Other barbers at his shop shave brows. The camp is rife with unconfirmed rumors of waxing.
Sgt. Matthew Cordell, a 26-year-old cook from Mechanicsburg, Ohio, initially had his eyebrows threaded during a tour of Iraq a couple of years ago. Back then, he just wanted to beat back the unibrow. But he liked the more-distinct brows that threading produced, and he kept it up at malls or the base PX in Hawaii, 3rd Squadron’s home station.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t make me look like a girl,’” reports Sgt. Cordell, who has a memorial rhyme to his father tattooed on one arm and his wife Sarah’s name tattooed on the other.
Staff Sgt. Mark Prodigalidad, a 32-year-old infantryman from Tampa, Fla., gave threading a try on a lark. The camp barber included it in the price of a $5 haircut. Sgt. Prodigalidad says he found it so painful that he had to call a timeout halfway through.
“I’ll probably never do it again because it hurt like hell,” he says.
Spc. Rene Ruiz, a 22-year-old from Oxnard, Calif., leaves his own brows in their natural state. But he knows a few other soldiers who indulge in super-orbital grooming. He even knows one soldier who shaves his arms and legs to bring out his tattoos.
“They’re straight guys—just a little metrosexual,” says Spec. Ruiz.
In his command post at Shinwar one day, Lt. Col. Turner was surprised that a female officer on his staff, Capt. Ashley Leach, jumped in to defend one of his browscaped soldiers.
“It doesn’t bother me that they clean it up a little bit,” says Capt. Leach, a 27-year-old from Alexandria, Va. “But once they start getting it shaped like a woman would, that’s a little much.”
Capt. Leach’s husband, 26-year-old Capt. Ryan Leach, is a civil-affairs officer at the same Afghan base. The furthest he’ll go is to allow his wife to pull a few strays from above the bridge of his nose, “the bare minimum” to keep the monobrow at bay.