FORT HOOD, Texas — Army & Air Force Exchange Service barbers are now certified by the Fort Hood Department of Preventive Medicine to serve Soldiers and their families during the pandemic.

Sgt. Natalie Seals of the 7417th Troop Medical Clinic and Chief of Environmental Health at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Capt. Vonessa Robinson, led a mandatory training course on May 13. It was custom-tailored to Exchange barbers, all about serving military communities during the pandemic, according to Fort Hood.

Seals and Robinson shared best practices for mitigating the spread of bacteria and viruses in barbershops. They also discussed the latest strategies from the Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Public Health Service and World Health Organization on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Melvin Kessler, general manager for Exchange barber contractor Jershan, requested preventive medicine to develop and provide the training, which barbers will need to retake every 90 days.

“No state requires this type of public health certification. S,o by requiring it at Fort Hood we are setting a standard that’s higher than anywhere else,” Kessler said.

Kessler requested the training in anticipation of increased foot traffic as pandemic restrictions ease and soldiers return to work. 

“I’ve only run into this kind of enthusiasm at two or three other posts,” Seals said. “It’s great that Mr. Kessler wanted to bring this forth. Kudos to him.”

Seals and Robinson provided the curriculum for Fort Hood public health inspectors to use in future barbershop inspections. Exchange services staff also received the training.

“Partnerships like this really do make a difference,” Exchange Services Business Manager Jeanne Young said. “We appreciate Preventive Medicine helping us keep our customers safe. They have a job to do, and if we do our job right, then everything is on the up-and-up.”

While barbershops outside the gate have only recently reopened, Exchange barbers have continued to serve the Fort Hood community during the pandemic. 

Extra safety precautions have been taken to ensure adequate physical distancing, shops have halved the number of clients that can be seen at one time and waiting room seating has been moved outside so chairs can be kept at least six feet apart, according to Fort Hood.

“The Exchange is mission essential, and keeping our customers safe is our No. 1 priority,” Young said.

The concept has spread to other Fort Hood Exchange facilities. Seals and Robinson have provided a similar course to stylists at the Paul Mitchell salon on May 20. Kessler has also put the course online so public health officials at about 30 other military installations can administer the training to employees at the rest of his Exchange barbershops, according to Fort Hood.

“We are showing everyone that the Exchange and its concessionaires set the bar higher,” Kessler said. “We will always go above and beyond to serve those who serve while putting their health and safety first.”

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