Mustaches and the Air Force go way back. The most famous Air Force mustache is that of Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, the legendary fighter pilot whose lip beard inspired the branch’s Mustache Month tradition. Members of search and rescue squadrons paint mustaches on the front of their helicopters, and at least one A-10 attack plane has even sported one.
Many airmen like Olds also have a passion for pushing the envelope, and an Air Force memo leaked on Facebook and Reddit on Wednesday seems to push the limits of what’s possible for upper lip hairs in the military. The pre-decisional guidance would allow airmen to grow their mustaches a quarter-inch longer on either side of their mouth, meaning they could grow it out a half-inch longer in total.
“No portion of the mustache will extend below the lip line of the upper lip. The mustache will not go beyond a horizontal line extending across the corners of the mouth and no more than 1/4 inch beyond a vertical line drawn from the corner of the mouth,” said the guidance, which was signed by Gwendolyn Defilippi, the assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower personnel and services at Air Force headquarters.
Airmen are not currently allowed to grow a mustache beyond the corners of their mouths. While a little more ‘stache sounds exciting, be wary, because the guidance is not a sure thing.
“The Department of the Air Force is in the process of finalizing updates to grooming and uniform policies,” said Tech Sgt. Deana Heitzman, an Air Force spokesperson. “All information posted online is pre-decisional and is subject to change.”
The document did not state when exactly a final decision might be made, but one can only hope it is before next Mustache March, or at least no-shave November. An extra quarter-inch may not allow Civil War Rear Adm. John Walker-levels of ‘stache, but sometimes whiskers, like progress, are measured in centimeters, not meters.
Meanwhile, the pre-decisional memo also featured new guidance on uniform patches. It says that airmen assigned to units in other branches or joint organizations can wear that unit’s organizational patch under that unit’s instructions. But if those instructions run into conflict with Air Force regulations, then Air Force regulations take precedence.
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Facial hair is a hot-button issue in the Air Force. Airmen often post on social media about how they wish the service would lift its decades-long prohibition on beards. Many supporters of the prohibition who rose through the ranks clean-shaven say that beards disrupt a professional appearance and interfere with the seal of a gas mask. However, critics point out that there is little direct evidence to show that neatly-trimmed beards interfere with a seal. They also say that beards can look very professional if they are kept neat and short.
Whether or not the Air Force eventually decides to allow beards for all or allow airmen to grow that extra half inch of mustache, the leaked memo shows the service is apparently considering different ways to make its standards more inclusive. In 2021, the Air Force rolled out a series of changes that allowed female airmen to wear longer braids, ponytails and bangs; all airmen to wear baseball caps and put their hands in their pockets; and maintainers who repair aircraft on sweltering flight lines to wear shorts instead of pants.
Throughout the past year of changes, airmen wishing for beards have patiently waited. If the mustache extension is finalized, it’s not quite the facial hair they were hoping for, but every little bit counts. “That’s one small step for beard,” wrote one Facebook commenter, “one giant leap for beard kind.”
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