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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | March 6, 2012

Mustache March maximizes manliness

By Senior Airman Torey Griffith 11th Wing public Affairs

What makes a man a man? Is it stature or power? Fame or fortune? A fast car or a big gun?

From the master of the T-top Trans Am, Burt Reynolds, to the bad boy of breakfast buffets, Ron Swanson, powerful males around the world share one feature that is the universal symbol of manhood: the mustache.

"Mustache March," an Air Force tradition with roots going back to the Vietnam era, is a 31-day, fuzzy-lipped free-for-all in which participants boldly proclaim their awesomeness by growing mustaches.

According to legend, Robin Olds, a triple-ace fighter pilot, started the tradition while deployed in Vietnam. The "bullet proof mustache," a forbidden facial feature fighter pilots believed made their aircraft impervious to bullets, much like Chuck Norris, was taken to the next level in March of 1965.

Olds' soup strainer grew and grew, despite regulations against facial hair in those days. His hairy act of defiance signaled a call for all people, Airmen and generals alike, 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. "I was far away from home. It was a gesture of defiance. The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache."

While commanding the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in Vietnam, Olds' maverick attitude trumped both the "yes man" attitude in Washington, D.C., and the "ready, fire, aim" mentality that sometimes forms among quick-to-act fighter pilots.

Despite his 100-flying-mission restriction from higher headquarters, Olds flew more than 150 missions; including the famous Operation Bolo, in which he shot down four Russian MiGs in one dogfight.

This tenacity in the air, combined with his genuine approach to leadership and dashing caterpillar lip, earned Olds a place in Air Force history.

Upon his return to the states, Olds met a different attitude toward his mouth eyebrow.

"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, to the dismay of many Air Force spouses and significant others, Mustache March contests for the Selleck-iest 'stache continue. However, in this battle of the fork brooms, Airmen must follow the guidelines in Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Appearance. After all, with a great mustache comes great responsibility.

Section 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. See Figure 3-1, reference points B, C, and D."