The prickly truth about Mustache March

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Clay Murray
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Across the Air Force during the month of March, many will notice the gradual development of mustaches on Airmen, retired and newly recruited. Some will be full-bodied, shaped, trimmed and clean, while others may be patchy, uneven and sickly.

Some would argue history of this phenomenon dates back to the dawn of time. But the real story of mustaches and the military begins with one of history's most influential leaders, carrying on in military tradition to modern day.

Alexander the Great was a key player, if not the pivotal person in combining the mustache and the military. He was typically seen with a beard, thick and full. However, when the horn of battle would summon Alexander and his men, he would perform a little-known ritual to mentally and physically prepare.

Dawn would come the day of battle, and Alexander would rise early, full of ambition and glee. He would set out to the mountain bases in search of an elusive and endangered animal, known as a field rat, that had rows upon rows of teeth, thin, long and flat. According to notes transcribed in ancient Greek by Alexander himself, he would first bathe his face in expensive, eastern aromatic oils. With the field rat in hand, Alexander pinched the rat repeatedly to create an almost electric-razor effect and shaved his face closer than any modern razor could ever imagine. If field rats were in shortage, however, Alexander would settle for mutant piranhas.

This field-ready, lip-brow look didn't catch on immediately, as in those days hearty beards were fashionable, soldiers were too busy gambling outside tents and field rats were overly difficult to catch. However, when one of Alexander's top generals devised a method of lining sharp teeth on a stick to readily shave, it caught on almost overnight.

Once populated among the armies of Alexander the Great, this groomed appearance reached every corner of the land conquered by the Greek king of Macedon. Its next major employment, however, wasn't for centuries.

Genghis Khan was also enchanted by the mustache. "A mustache is the mark of a warrior," he is quoted as saying. "It is a symbol of a strong heart, and akin to likes of the dragon." Over years and years of evolution, the military mustache wasn't recognizable as the tall, wide and stubbly patch once so common in Greece. Unlike Alexander, Khan's mustache of choice was the Fu Manchu.

No records of Khan's personal mustache methods have been uncovered, but experts believe Khan's facial hair orientation naturally created a layout exactly that of the infamous Fu Manchu.

The military mustache made the jump to the west and the U.S. military around the middle of the 20th century. During an operation in March of 1943, American soldiers in Tunisia overcame German forces in the middle of the desert. The soldiers from this company, short on supplies, managed to hold out and succeed. Among their shortage were sharp razor blades for shaving.

Soldiers shaved their faces with issued field knives and oils traded from merchants for cola. These servicemembers clearly paid homage to Alexander and his military-style mustache. Some skeptics argue this was only a coincidence. They refute the upper lip is too risky a place on the face to shave with a large knife and the men were merely taking a precaution. Regardless of the speculation, this World War II incident has had lasting effects on military men, and Airmen today grow mustaches for an entire month to remember those men in the field without sharp blades.

Editor's note: The article above is fictional and written in the spirit of Mustache March.