220.127.116.11. Mustaches. Male Airmen may have mustaches; however they will be conservative (moderate, being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme) and will not extend downward beyond the lip line of the upper lip or extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from both corners of the mouth.
Heritage. Tradition. Honor. And an extravagantly waxed handlebar mustache?
During the Vietnam War, Brigadier General (BG) Robin Olds (then Colonel Olds) began growing a mustache in good natured defiance of facial hair regulations in the Air Force. He quickly went beyond that, flagrantly sporting a meticulously waxed handlebar mustache that extended beyond the edge of his lips, which was in direct violation of grooming standards. Eventually known as the “bulletproof” mustache, it became common superstition among airmen during the war to grow one.
Olds, a legendary airman and a “triple ace,” won a combined total of 16 victories during World War II and the Vietnam War. He is considered one of the greatest aerial warriors America has ever produced.
After returning to the Pentagon, Olds removed his mustache after Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. McConnell stuck a finger under his nose and said, “Take it off.” Olds wasn’t particularly upset by this, “To tell the truth, I wasn’t all that fond of the damned thing by then, but it had become a symbol for the men of the 8th Wing. I knew McConnell understood. During his visits to Ubon over the past year he had never referred to my breach of military standards, just seemed rather amused at the variety of ‘staches sported by many of the troops.” However, his renegade mustache was the catalyst that created a new Air Force tradition called the Mustache March, where Air Force personnel come together in a symbolic show of solidarity during the month of March and grow a mustache.
In February of 2014, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh threw down the gauntlet and declared and Air Force-wide Mustache March. “Now, I don’t know but I don’t think we’ve had an all-in Mustache March,” Welsh said. “So I’m putting the smackdown on you guys: Air Force-wide, Mustache March, MAJCOM competitions.”
While the rules and regulations of AFI 36-2903 had to be maintained during the Mustache March, the competition was open to everyone in the Air Force. And although growing a mustache is a man’s contest, Welsh believed that female airmen had a critical role to play. “Their job is to ridicule us nonstop about the idiotic look that these mustaches will have on most of us as we try to look like Tom Selleck and really look like a three-haired mole. So, fight’s on.”
Whether the challenge will be issued again in the coming years, the airmen who good naturedly defy facial hair regulations during Mustache Madness can stand proud. They are honoring their history and traditions and remembering a legendary “triple ace,” BG Robin Olds.
Sources: afrc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123401811, flightlines.airforcetimes.com/2014/02/21/welsh-throws-down-gauntlet-air-force-wide-mustache-march/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustache_March