Mustache March observed at Holloman

  • Published
  • By Arlan Ponder
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Have you run into someone during this past month who had something on their top lip you haven't noticed before? If you have, then they are observing one of the many traditions the Air Force has adopted over the years - Mustache March.

The tradition is an annual event occurring during the month of March where Airmen from all walks of Air Force life grow their "bullet-proof" mustaches in a "good-natured protest."

The origins of this "gesture of defiance" trace back to triple-ace Gen. Robin Olds, who grew a handlebar mustache while he was serving in Vietnam.

"Generals visiting Vietnam would kind of laugh at the mustache," General Olds said in his biography, "Fighter Pilot - The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds." "I was far away from home. It was a gesture of defiance. The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache."

In his biography, which was written after he died in 2007, the West Point graduate attests that his Royal Air Force-style mustache was a "middle finger" to the Washington bureaucrats who were creating the rules of engagement during the Vietnam War.

However, once the "Wolf of Kunsan" came home, he followed the orders laid out by then Air Force Chief of Staff General John McConnell. General McConnell said "Take it off," and General Olds replied "Yes, sir."

For some who take part in Mustache March, it is a distraction from the current tempo faced by Airmen today.

"I first started doing it in 2000 and I have participated every year since," said Lt. Col. James Merchant, who first grew his mustache in Kunsan, Republic of Korea. "We have a lot rules and regulations to follow and that creates stress. This is a stress reliever and morale booster because you almost feel like you're breaking a rule."

Colonel Merchant said he also takes part in other traditions such as Sideburn September and Flat-top February, but he has always followed the rules when it comes to his mustache -- never wearing the handle-bar mustache like "The Wolf."

General Olds, who had 16 aerial victories in World War II and the Vietnam War, was legendary in the Air Force community as an advocate of the importance of tactical air power. He was a maverick in his own right who was impatient with bureaucracy and anyone or anything that kept him out of the air.

"When he was assigned to a jet squadron after the war, he was not slotted for flying time," said David Forsmark in a review of General Olds' biography. "Without even being check out in the plane, he walked onto the tarmac, bluffed his way into an F-80 Shooting Star and learned to fly it on his own before anyone realized what he had done. Olds bucked the system constantly."

The Air Force Cross winner was kept out of the Korean War despite repeated attempts to join a combat unit thanks to an assignment to command an Air Defense Command unit, the 71st Fighter Squadron, which was stationed at Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Pa. In his book, he eludes that there was some speculation that his Hollywood actress wife, Ella Raines, politicked to have him kept out of the conflict.

General Olds died on June 14, 2007, one month short of his 85th birthday. Following a funeral service at the Air Force Academy, where he served as the Commandant of Cadets from 1967 to 1971, a 14 aircraft aerial review took place, including four F-4 Phantoms flying a missing man formation.