Ramstein Airmen 'mustache' the question

Legendary ace pilot Brig. Gen. Robin Olds (shown here as a colonel) inspired Mustache March with his trademark handlebar. (US Air Force courtesy photo)

Legendary ace pilot Brig. Gen. Robin Olds (shown here as a colonel) inspired Mustache March with his trademark handlebar. (US Air Force courtesy photo)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Editor's Note: Beards are not authorized unless for medical reasons, when authorized by a commander on the advice of a medical official. If commander authorizes, members will keep all facial hair trimmed not to exceed 1/4 inch in length. Individuals granted a shaving waiver will not shave or trim any facial hair in such a manner as to give a sculptured appearance.

Does it come in thick and full, or is it light and patchy? Will it shine as a glorious testament to your manliness, or timidly hide just below the surface? Regardless of the answer, there are only two questions every Airmen needs to ask -- "How far are you willing to go?" and "Are you willing to become 'bullet proof?'"

Mustache March has been a long-standing tradition for Airmen stemming from the Vietnam era, specifically from triple-ace fighter pilot, Robin Olds. It is a month full of Airmen vying to be the fuzzy-faced champion, attempting to grow a garden on their upper-lip that would even make Bert Reynolds blush.

This year, Gen. Mark A. Welsh, U.S. Air Force chief of staff, has issued a challenge to all Airmen; put on your finest push-brooms and roll out your crumb collectors, Air Force-wide Mustache March is on!

"I don't think we've ever had an all-in Mustache March, have we?" Welsh said during his speech at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium. "I'm putting the smack down on you guys, Air Force-wide Mustache March, MAJCOM competitions."

Though regulations prohibit female Airmen from cultivating the same prickly cactus thorns as male Airmen, their role in Mustache March competitions is just as important. Beyond judging the competitors, deciding who looks the most like Tom Selleck with their glorious flavor-savers, female Airmen here have been invited to be design fake mustaches to be worn at the time of judging only.

Welsh challenged female Airmen to take part in Mustache March by being creative and remembering why we celebrate the tradition.

According to legend, Olds started the tradition while deployed in Vietnam. The "bullet proof mustache" began when fighter pilots jokingly believed it made their aircraft impervious to bullets.

Despite Air Force regulations against facial hair, Olds grew his fuzzy caterpillar to epic proportions. Though he was violating the policies, his act signaled a call for Airmen of all ranks to think for themselves, respectfully question the status-quo and to fight as a team for what they believe in.

"Generals visiting Vietnam would kind of laugh at the mustache," said Olds in a previous interview. "I was far away from home. It was a gesture of defiance. The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache."

After returning from the war, Olds quickly became aware that even though his deviation from the norm boosted the morale of Airmen in Vietnam, his bushy handlebars would not be tolerated back home.

"I remember my first interview with [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P.] McConnell," Olds said. "I walked briskly through the door, stopped and snapped a salute. He walked up to me, stuck a finger under my nose and said, 'Take it off!' And I said, 'Yes, sir!' And that was the end of that."

Today, Airmen continue to upset their spouses and significant others by honoring Olds' maverick attitude and meticulously waxed soup strainer. Unlike Olds though, maintaining the standards is a very important part of Mustache March. With a great mustache comes great responsibility and Airmen must follow the guidelines in Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Appearance.

Section 3.1.2.2. states, "... 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."

The gauntlet has been thrown and the battle for the dirtiest lip-duster is on. Air Force-wide, Airmen have been asked to wear their impenetrable 'stache armor with pride, regardless of how grotesque it may look. Do you have what it takes to be 'bullet proof?'