Chappie James kept it “within regs”

It’s #MustacheMarch again … Time for men (and, some women too) to refrain from shaving/waxing their upper lips for the entire month.

The tradition is credited to United States Air Force General Robin Olds, the famous fighter pilot (pictured, right) whose claim to fame was killing North Vietnamese MiGs in 1967.

Some believed Olds’ lucky mustache made him bulletproof. So, while he was overseas (killing the enemy,) no one cared that his mustache didn’t conform to the Air Force’s grooming standards.

Olds’ believed that maintaining the “out of regs” mustache was a simple act of defiance against a bureaucratic system that tried to micromanage from afar … A system that enforced rules which hindered, more than helped, fight the war. With his fabulous ‘stache, Olds’ gave “the system” the middle finger while still getting the job done.

Since Vietnam, Airmen worldwide have been growing mustaches in March to pay tribute to the great leader they admire. Robin Olds certainly deserves the respect we pay him each month by letting our lips grow out.

With no disrespect to Olds, I also like to remember General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. during #MustacheMarch. Chappie James is probably best-known for being the first African-American to earn the rank of four-star General. He’s also known as a great aviator, flying 78 combat missions in Vietnam. Did you know he was also a Public Affairs officer? Yep! Chappie James was PA … ALL DAY! (Well, at least from 1970 -1974, anyway.)

But he’s also remembered as Olds’ Vice Commander … his right-hand man. They called the duo “Blackman and Robin.” (Don’t judge … It was a different time.) James wore a mustache, too — as did many others in those days. But judging by old pics, I assume this was just his everyday look — not an act of rebellion, as was the case for Robin Olds.

I also assume James was keenly aware of the impact he had on people’s perceptions of Blacks in military service. He was an advocate for equality in the military, having served during segregation as a young officer. As he grew in rank, I’m sure he felt a responsibility (whether he wanted it or not) to project a positive image of minorities in the Air Force.

Perhaps that’s why most pictures of James show his upper lip to be nicely groomed, appearing to conform to the rules and grooming standards. I wager James knew that while many saw Olds’ out-of-regs mustache as inspiring, if James were to wear an out-of-regs mustache, he would be labeled as being disrespectful. To those who didn’t want to serve in a desegregated military, seeing James rock a flamboyant, oversized, handle-bar ‘stache that covered his top lip (à la Olds) would’ve been like poking a finger in their eye … Especially if James outranked them. During a time when many felt Blacks were inferior, he knew he couldn’t give anyone a reason to criticize him, or the people he represented.

I think James rose to success by not only being a great aviator and Airman, but by demonstrating that there was no need to fear African-Americans in military service. Blacks could serve as faithful followers, as he did under Olds. And they also had the capacity to lead others, as he did for years before his retirement.

So, it’s within that context that I throw my hat … er, LIP in the ring for #MustacheMarch. Like Robin Olds, I will wear a mustache as a sign of solidarity with my fellow Airmen against a sometimes bureaucratic system. And, like Chappie, I’ll keep it “in regs.”

This is my lip on day one, clean shaven (so you know I’m not cheating!) I’ll post the end result on the 31st.

I’m not betting on winning any mustache contests, but I’m certainly confident that if Chappie or Robin were here today, they’d both approve.

#RobinOlds #ChappieJames





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