|Early in my sophomore year (1972-73) at St. Augustine High School I attended a meeting in the school auditorium. The meeting's purpose was to introduce us newbies to high school Army ROTC in the hopes that we might join.|
In other words, it was recruitment time.
At that point in my young life, I was still considering the military as a possible career. ROTC seemed like a good way to try it on ... see if it fit.
The speaker, a retired army Major, said his piece and then opened the room for questions.
I raised my hand.
He called on me.
"What about hair?" I asked,
"Do we have to cut our hair?"
There was a rustle in the hairy crowd, a murmur if you will ... I had voiced the collective thought of each long haired patriotic kid in the room.
The Major smiled (or was that a grimace) and shook his head.
"I'm tired of talking hair with you boys... hair is NOT an issue."
I signed up for ROTC class immediately.
ROTC turned out to be one of the best courses in my entire high school career. We learned military history, leadership, first aid, light tactics, drill, ceremony, how to polish brass ... ...never could get all the greenish Brasso polish out of my brass and it cost me demerits a time or two, but dang it was a fun course.
I completed that first year and signed up again for year 2 the next year. Late in my Junior year, ... about this time of year to be exact, the Major called me into his office.
After an evaluation and general praise for my leadership qualities, he said, "I want you to be the Battalion Commander next year." Almost in the same breath, he added, "You'll have to cut your hair of course."
Well ... crap.
I was afraid this might happen.
The senior who was the current Battalion Commander was as clean cut as Gomer Pyle.
He had also earned a scholarship by holding that position so it wasn't just an ego thing...it was a money thing.
(Scholarships were few and far between in the'70's, this was before Florida started "Bright Futures".)
It was kind of a big deal and I had just been handed a nice fat dilemma.
I thought about all the angles, the rewards, how proud my folks would be, a probable scholarship ...
"Major, two years ago you said that hair was not an issue." I then quoted him exactly, and held my breath, waiting to see what he would say.
He leaned back in his chair, grimaced again, and said,
"Well, yes, but this is the leadership position for the entire battalion and you have to project the correct image. Appearance is an issue for this position"
Of course, he was right. (Hindsight)
But, so was I. (Teensight)
In my teenage heart, it was a matter of principle. Here was a leader I admired, flip-flopping on a statement he had made just a year before.
So, I thanked him for his faith in me and then I declined the position.
"No Sir, I will not cut my hair. I took you at your word last year and I'm sorry you changed your mind on that issue, but I respectfully decline Battalion Commander. Thank you for considering me."
I walked out feeling a mix of feelings, but mostly a heady pride in standing my ground.
Later at home, my Dad shook his head, but did not get mad.
I stayed in ROTC, a good friend with short hair got the Battalion Commander position and a scholarship, the Major ( a good man by the way) didn't seem to hold any grudges, and neither did I.
The third and final year of ROTC was just as good as the first two.
Now, deep into a 26 year career working with kids, I think of that day sometimes when a teenager is making a stubborn prideful decision that "grown up" me is trying to talk them out of,
and...confession time ...
... I do a secret smile when they stick to their guns.