Hinesville resident Bill Mitchell recently returned from Trondheim, Norway, as a world champion. He won top honors in the freestyle-sideburns category of the World Beard and Moustache Championships. Nearly 200 people from 15 countries competed in the contest.
He also soon will appear in “Whisker Wars,” a reality show on IFC about beard competitors, as well as other documentaries in the United States, Switzerland and France.
Mitchell, a retired Army sergeant first class, served as a medic with the 65th Combat Engineers, 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. He later switched to infantry and was part of the activation of the 24th Infantry in 1975 at Fort Stewart. He remained an infantryman until his retirement in February 1989. He has lived in Hinesville since retiring.
Mitchell has grown facial hair in varying degrees and styles since retiring from the Army. He ran into problems with a couple of employers, including the federal government and its contractors, requiring him to shave his various styles.
“If I said it was for religious purposes — one boss even suggesting that I make up a religion — I could have kept them, but I wasn’t going to go there,” Mitchell said.
Three years ago, he saw the results of the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Brighton, England.
“I knew immediately that was something I could do, and the training – or should I say growing – was on,” he said.
He contacted Beard Team USA captain and founder Phil Olsen to become a member. Then he set his sights on the world championships that were approaching in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2009.
“I figured the worst I could do was not place and have a great vacation,” Mitchell said. “My wife figured I would be so disappointed that I would finally stop growing more than just the small moustaches that I had while I was in the Army.
“What a surprise for both of us when I placed third in my category. Three-hundred competitors from 13 countries had participated and I was taking home a trophy.”
Since then, he said, his wife knows he’s hooked, and he now has an expensive hobby.
“She is enjoying the travel benefits she gets when she goes to some of the competitions with me,” Mitchell said.
Since 2009, he has won competitions in Pennsylvania and currently is the New York City overall champion. He is a two-time Southeastern U.S. champion and competed at the European championships in October in Leogang, Austria. He also has been asked to judge some contests.
“Almost every contest is for charity, and I’ve seen thousands of dollars raised for breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer,” Mitchell said. “My wife is already looking forward to Stuttgart, Germany, in 2013, where the next world championships will be held, as well as the U.S. nationals coming in October in Lancaster, Pa.
“I’ve had the honor of visiting our heroes at Walter Reed with other members of Bead Team USA and hope to do so again soon.”
Mitchell went to Fort Stewart for the Fourth of July celebrations. He said he was happy to spend time and pose for pictures with soldiers.
“I would like to hold a moustache contest on Fort Stewart – military only,” Mitchell said. “(I’d like to) have a panel of first sergeants or command sergeants major – regulation only, of course, but to have a good time.”