Mustache March Madness

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brooke Culler
  • 126th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
While many Illinois residents associate March with St. Patrick's Day celebrations, tornado season, and basketball finals, Air National Guardsmen honor this month with the Air Force tradition of Mustache March.

This tradition originated during the Vietnam War when Col. Robin Olds, Wing Commander for the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, grew a long, waxed handlebar mustache in defiance to the military's grooming regulations and wartime policies.

In response to the success of Operation Bolo, the mission to lure North Vietnamese aircraft into aerial traps with dominating allied fighters, Olds let his mustache grow beyond regulation length as a symbol of rebellion that could be published in PR photographs. As he explained, "The mustache became my silent last word in the verbal battles...with higher headquarters on rules, targets, and fighting the war."

While "bulletproof mustaches" and other superstitions were not uncommon in Vietnam, Olds took the mustache growing movement to new heights (or new lengths).

After flying 105 combat missions over North Vietnam and downing four enemy aircraft, Olds returned home and faced the end of his exaggerated whiskers. He received a direct order from General John P. McConnell, Air Force Chief of Staff, to take it off; however, Olds was already prepared to bid farewell to his waxed wingman.

"To tell the truth," Olds recalled, "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."

Modern airmen credit the mustache madness expressed during the Vietnam era as the push needed for a new Air Force tradition. Now in March, you can find bristly tributes in all career fields on bases worldwide.

So this year, as a show of branch solidarity and good-natured protest, you mustache yourself one thing: Are you up for the challenge?