For John Russell Hintze, getting into the United States Naval Academy was hard. But for the 17-year-old Grovetown High School graduate, cutting his rock-and-roll hair for the first time since he was 10 might have been harder.
“I feel naked,” the metal band guitarist said after his mother chopped off his hair Sunday in front of his friends and family outside their family’s home.
His mother, Katrina Hintze, carefully kept his dark brown hair in pony tails so John Russell could send it to Locks of Love, something he insisted on.
“I have family and know people with cancer,” he said. “I don’t want it to go to waste. Maybe it can help someone.”
Before noon Sunday, Hintze did not look like a typical military-bound student. He looked like the missing member of the Ramones.
His father, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1983 and is a captain in the Naval Reserves, said his son’s desire to follow in his footsteps has always been his own idea.
“It’s what he wanted to do,” Douglas Hintze said. “He made the decision; he put in the work.”
The Naval Academy looks at a few areas when deciding who to let into the school, Katrina Hintze said. The first is community service.
In April and again in October, Hintze accompanied World War II veterans on the trip to Washington, D.C., to see the war memorial with the Vets to Washington project.
Douglas Hintze said the group usually never takes anyone under 20, but when someone dropped out at the last second, they took a chance on the kid with the hair.
“I’m very selective on who I take on these trips,” said Douglas Hastings, the director of Vets to Washington. “John did an excellent job. The vets opened up to him real easy. Their reaction was so positive I asked him to come back.”
Hastings said the vets initially were curious about the lanky kid with hair down to his shoulders, but as soon as John Russell told them his goal was to go to the Naval Academy, they were immediately impressed.
At school, John Russell was part of Grovetown’s varsity track and cross country team. He was student council treasurer and vice president of the school’s chapter of the National Spanish Honors Society.
Each year, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun nominates eligible students for consideration of appointment to the United States Air Force, Naval, Military and Merchant Marine academies. He announced Hintze’s nomination in April.
“Attending one of America’s service academies is a tremendous achievement reserved for our nation’s brightest students,” Broun said.
For Hintze’s mom, watching her oldest of four boys meet his goal has been special.
“I could not be more proud,” she said.
But first, she had to say good-bye to the foot of hair that defined her son for years.
The friends filming the event voiced their support, despite being part of the Facebook group called “Save John Russell’s Hair.”
Shawn Allen watched his friend stand up from the chair and look in the mirror for the first time, a young man a little closer to military-ready.
“You look fierce, John Russell,” he said.