As April comes, must the mustaches go?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. John Bainter
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
While I've only been in the Air Force five years, I've noticed a certain pattern reoccurring at least for one month out of each year. It doesn't concern deployments or fitness fads; just the Airmen who conduct them, specifically males during the month of March.

Many times, I'd see a fellow Airman in February, run into him a few weeks later and do a double-take about him sporting a Burt Reynolds (i.e. a mustache.) And, seemingly like a virus, this new trend would carry over to his coworkers, each donning their new facial hair variations.

In fact, I last saw this trend on the man in my mirror. Yes, I, too, have participated in this cherished custom known as Mustache March.

But what is Mustache March, and where did it come from? I've asked myself this many times, as with many traditions I've practiced without any real explanation or understanding behind where it came from or why I do it.

This year, I chose to follow the ritual by growing an almost pencil-drawn one on my facial path, later deemed "hideous and ridiculous" by my wife. I also encountered heckles from friends and co-workers as the barely-there mustache began to form into something, shall I say, more disturbing than attractive.

This carries on to my work-related activities, too. Believe me, as a photojournalist, having an unattractive mustache doesn't help my case with onlookers, especially when I take photos of my own children at the playground.

Yet, I became intrigued. This motivated me to determine the origin of this annual pattern of apparent mockery I was subjecting myself to; if not for the sake of tradition, then, at least, for my own amusement. I've even had people refuse to engage in conversation, and now I'm quoting, "with my mustache."

As it turns out, this nationally-adopted manly tradition has more to do with the military than I ever knew.

According to an Air Force commentary by 1st Lt. Elizabeth McLean with the 387th Air Expeditionary Group, Air Force Brig. Gen. Robin Olds is attributed with creating what we now call Mustache March. With his renowned "bulletproof mustache," Olds did his own peaceful protest against the then-current regulation prohibiting pilots from displaying facial hair. In fact, upon returning home, the then Chief of Staff of the Air Force didn't take too kindly to his "handlebars," bluntly telling him to "Take it off."

Olds did as he was instructed, but his legacy continues to be felt throughout the Air Force even to today. His individual defiance spawned a subculture and formed a sense of camaraderie and bond, even "in the face" of getting second-glances from others and constantly combatting coffee, crumbs and many other forms of foreign object debris, or "FOD," that you may find under your nose after lunch.

But March is coming to a close. The buzzing sound of razors followed by shouts of "Yeow!" and liberal applications of tissue paper can mean only one thing: April is here.

And, as part of the new "Spring cleaning" festivities, I'll prepare my razor to remove the pencil-thin line of fuzz above my upper lip known as my sorry attempt for a mustache.

But believe me now when I say this: I feel even better about continuing the tradition my spouse and countless other people may dislike so much next year and beyond. It may appear as "off-putting" or an invitation for jokes by our hairless comrades, but many fellow Airmen and I actually enjoy forming the bonds of "mustachehood" by participating in this unofficial tradition.

We don't do it just to be "cool" or "like Magnum PI," we simply honor this tradition, because that's exactly what it is: a tradition.

As it has proven time and time again in our Air Force, we are bound by traditions in our fighting forces. Mustache March, regardless of the looks and complaints we incur from loved ones and coworkers, is a just another way we continue part of our heritage.