PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIR RESERVE STATION, Pa. --
If tumbleweeds could have blown across the streets of some Pittsburgh area communities, they would have.
The Pennsylvanian definition of what was essential and what wasn’t was forced to change overnight. Stores closed. Restaurants moved to take-out and delivery options only. Public transportation screeched to a halt. And many services like hair salons and barbers closed their doors, often with block-lettered signs taped to the glass stating that COVID-19 restrictions had paused their work.
While a haircut is usually not a necessity for civilians, for military members the requirements are a bit different. If an Airman’s hair is too long and does not meet regulation standards, there is a problem that needs to be fixed, and quickly.
Senior Airman Sara Gutherie, integrated flight control systems mechanic with the 911th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, saw the plight of her fellow Airmen and remembered the Air Force Core Values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. Someone had to embody those core values and help their wingmen. Someone had to do something.
Gutherie suddenly realized that she was uniquely qualified to be the one to step up.
“I’m still a licensed cosmetologist in Ohio, but I also hold an independent contractor’s license, so I was able to offer Airmen haircuts,” Gutherie said. “I think it’s very important for us to look our best and feel our best and to have some normalcy and routine in our lives especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
So Gutherie donned an apron, a mask, and gloves over her uniform, sanitized her tools, and advertised her services. It started with one or two haircuts, but it quickly developed into more as the word got out.
“Gutherie’s haircuts helped me keep my young Airmen within regulations. When her supervisor told me she was going to provide haircuts for us, I jumped at the opportunity to get my guys taken care of,” said Master Sgt. Brian Connelly, 911th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace powerplant general flight chief. “For so many Airmen, there is a lot of pride in having a good haircut because it distinguishes us, so for her to go above and beyond to provide haircuts to us, her fellow Airmen, during the pandemic, that speaks volumes to how much she truly cares about us.”
Gutherie knew that her fellow Airmen would try to pay her for giving them haircuts. However, she knew she wasn’t doing this for the money. She then got an idea to put the money back into the base community by donating to a fund intended to assist Airmen who may be struggling financially in the wake of COVID-19 driven shutdowns.
“Since I’m in a position to give back and I didn’t want to accept any money from them, I thought that was a good place to put everything. They tried to tip me, tried to pay me, donation only though,” said Gutherie.
When more people found out about her doing this, some people just came to her without wanting a haircut just to be able to donate money and help out their fellow Airmen.
The impact of Gutherie’s self-declared “simple” act was felt well beyond her unit as she provided haircuts to more than 30 Airmen and raised a total of more than $950 in donations.
“Just prior to the quarantine our squadron actually had to dip into that [fund] to help out one of our members and with the donations raised by Gutherie we were able to repay that and then some,” said Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Mikan, 911th AMXS specialist flight chief. “We’ve used money [from the fund] and gave back to it. Hopefully that money will go to somebody else in need, maybe they’re out of work and we can’t get them on orders. It can be a difference of buying diapers for a week until the next time the unemployment check comes in.”
Due to Gutherie’s actions in helping out her fellow Airmen she was recognized by multiple different levels of leadership, receiving coins from the Chiefs’ Council, First Sergeants’ Council, 911th Maintenance Group Commander Lt. Col. Katrine Waterman and 4th Air Force Commander Brig. Gen. Jeffrey T. Pennington. She also received a letter of appreciation from Col. John F. Robinson, 911th Airlift Wing commander.
“That was all very unexpected, I didn’t do it for any recognition,” Gutherie said. “I didn’t expect the impact that it would make on so many people, so that surprised me a lot, I didn’t realize how good it made people feel and how many people it was actually going to help.”
Though she didn’t expect or ask for the recognition, she knows that one small act of service can go a long way to impact a community in need.
“[We need to] be supportive and know that other people are going through tough times, even if we may not see it,” she said.