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Mustache season takes upper lips, Beale by storm

Staff Sgt. Chris Savage, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, has his mustache inspected for growth by a fellow EOD technician in their flight Heritage Room March 12, 2012. Savage along with most of the EOD flight is growing the facial hair in observance of Mustache March. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel/Released)

Staff Sgt. Chris Savage, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, has his mustache inspected for growth by a fellow EOD technician in their flight Heritage Room March 12, 2012. Savage along with most of the EOD flight is growing the facial hair in observance of Mustache March. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel/Released)

Staff Sgt. Kenneth Nelson, 9th Munitions Squadron technician, looks at his mustache in his sunglasses during a work break at the Beale AFB, Calif.,  bomb dump March 12, 2012. Many Airmen are growing mustaches in observance of Mustache March, which may have been started by Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. General Robin Olds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel/Released)

Staff Sgt. Kenneth Nelson, 9th Munitions Squadron technician, looks at his mustache in his sunglasses during a work break at the Beale AFB, Calif., bomb dump March 12, 2012. Many Airmen are growing mustaches in observance of Mustache March, which may have been started by Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. General Robin Olds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel/Released)

Airmen from the 9th Munitions Squadron, Beale AFB, Calif., proudly display the progress of their mustaches. The entire squadron was challenged to a competition by their commander in observance of Mustache March, which is famed across the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel/Released)

Airmen from the 9th Munitions Squadron, Beale AFB, Calif., proudly display the progress of their mustaches. The entire squadron was challenged to a competition by their commander in observance of Mustache March, which is famed across the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Shawn Nickel/Released)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., -- They're popping up everywhere; some as a scraggly wisp of hair on the upper lip and some full and bushy, boldly decorating the face of its proud owner, and one knows - its mustache season. Until the end of the month, Beale members are participating, some with less success than others, in the tradition known as March Mustache Madness.

Part contest, part manifesto, March Mustache Madness is an Air Force tradition where individuals compete against each other in the race to grow the best mustache before the end of the month.

"It takes a real man to participate in March Mustache Madness. If you do participate, follow the rules. It starts March 1, it has to be within regulations and no growth enhancement products are allowed," said Staff Sgt. Chris Savage, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician.

The tradition stems from a story about former Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, a fighter pilot who while deployed to Vietnam in 1965, grew his "bulletproof" mustache as a gesture of defiance of Air Force regulations. The story goes that when Olds reported back to his home station, then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. McConnell walked up to him, stuck a finger under his nose and ordered Olds to "take it off." Olds replied, "Yes, sir," later adding that it was the most direct order he had ever received.

Since then, the Air Force has changed its standards, allowing men to sport mustaches, but the tradition has been to limit the facial hair style to the month of March.

"It's the only time it's appropriate to grow a mustache. It's an opportunity to be obnoxious ... nobody enjoys looking like this," said Staff Sgt. Gene Tschida, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron explosives ordinance disposal team.

The controversial event, whose supporters say helps boost morale and is a time to laugh at their fellow co-workers, can also be a time of embarrassment for those who may be follicle-challenged, or those who fail to grow an acceptable mustache. Despite his blonde hair, which makes growing a visible mustache difficult, Staff Sgt. Blake Anderson, 9th Munitions Squadron, said he participates for the laughter and unit cohesiveness.

"I've tried Just for Men, Sharpie, hair dye, and mascara - the works," said the Air Force Combat Ammunitions Center instructor. "But it's all for morale. I'm a seven-year mustache veteran. There are no legitimate excuses for not participating."

Another challenge for participants is learning to handle life with a mustache, which can include ridicule at the wearer's expense, people staring oddly and impatience from wives and girlfriends as the month drags on.

"The biggest challenge for me is an accidental shaving mishap," said Savage. "You know, you're cleaning up on Monday morning and you nick the sides. You just need to have mustache awareness."

At the end of the month, the contest ends with bragging rights; many squadrons have contests with categories such as last man standing, to see who can wear their 'stache the longest, or creepiest and most awesome.

"A symbol of a good mustache is when you start getting stuff caught in it. That means you've succeeded," said Staff Sgt. Jay Weber, 9th MUNS.