Zack Brown's beard is more than just the hair on his face -- to him it's a symbol of freedom and overcoming the traumatic experiences of fighting the Global War on Terror. And now the Army veteran's dedication to hirsute pursuits earned him the title of Wahl's Man of the Year and earned his beard the title of "Best In America."
"When I got out of the military I made a vow to never shave again," said Brown. "For many veterans and first responders a beard is a symbol of freedom, and moving past the trauma they saw in the line of duty."
Veteran beards -- or "freedom beards" -- are definitely a thing. And it's time America recognized that.
The Marietta, Oklahoma native didn't win the coveted title just because of his meticulous self-imposed post-service grooming standard. It takes more than that to win Wahl's cross-country facial coiffure contest. The men's grooming company is celebrating its 100th birthday by celebrating the people who use its products. Brown was chosen as one winner among many, but stands out because of his dedication to his brothers and sisters in arms. Brown, now a deputy sheriff, also spends his free time and money on his own nonprofit organization, Casualties of War.
Casualties of War started as a blog but turned into an effort to turn good intentions into action and effect real change for those who were wounded while serving. In Brown's own words, he was "tired of building wheelchair ramps" and wanted to "teach people how to walk again." Casualties of War reconnects veterans with other veterans into positive and supportive groups who make productive changes in how people deal with post-traumatic stress. The organization now boasts three posts in three states and will soon expand with three more.
Every year, Wahl and its mobile barber shop travels the country looking for the "10 Most Facial Hair Friendly Cities in America." For those who couldn't make it to one of those ten, there were online entries and other ways to enter. In each of those cities, one winner was chosen as having the best facial hair. A winner was also chosen from outside those cities. That winner was dubbed the "Man of Anytown." Brown entered the contest at a trade show in Indianapolis in 2019 and soon won the "Man of Anytown" title. He went on to best the winners from places like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Austin to become Wahl's Man of the Year.
"Our annual Man of the Year Contest is designed to find and celebrate real guys with a real passion for facial hair," said a Wahl spokesperson. "This year the contest is celebrating much more than that. We're honored to shed light on someone who has dedicated his life to helping the brave men and women of our military build a brighter future."
For his superior whiskers, Brown won a $1,500 grand prize along with a commemorative Wahl 100th Anniversary Box containing a limited-edition 18-karat gold-plated trimmer and other grooming products. Even with the prestige of being Wahl's Man of the Year, Zack Brown's focus is on his organization's mission.
"My beard is just one more way I can connect with guys who are suffering and need someone to talk to," Brown said.
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