Today’s guest post is written by Oren Hammerquist, an Active Duty Army NCO who’s bringing a much-needed enlisted perspective to B&B’s ongoing musings on Army culture.
I grew my mustache on leave and a whim. In fact, wear of a mustache has a much longer tradition in my family than military service. I see it as a hobby and a way to maintain some facial hair. As expected, I returned to both compliment and ridicule. Opinions on mustaches vary widely. Perhaps one day my hobby will grow old. At a minimum, I must wait until people have forgotten I did not used to wear a mustache so they will ask what changed. But this time has not been wasted. I never expected my military mustache would teach me a valuable lesson. Now I know the truth: mustaches make better NCOs. Here are five reasons why.
- Backwards planning is essential to the wear of a military mustache.
There is perhaps nothing so difficult to groom as a mustache. Even those lucky few with shaving profiles do not truly understand. They cannot shape their beard. Those who have never worn a military mustache may think one simply shaves around the upper lip and goes to work. In fact, a mustache in the military takes almost daily grooming.
The clean-shaven NCO who lives ten minutes from base might wake up 45 minutes before formation, take ten minutes dressing, ten minutes to drive and shave with an electric razor, and still arrive fifteen minutes early. But a mustache takes planning.
With practice, it takes five minutes to trim a mustache. To start, it may take much longer to get it right. The mustache wearing NCO must take time to assess their own skill with beard trimmers, evaluate the needed time to complete the mission, and plan accordingly.
- Personal courage is essential to the wear of the military mustache.
Mustaches are an exception in most units, and the wearer is sure to draw attention. The decision to add this personal touch to one’s appearance means they will no longer be able to blend in with the clean-shaven crowd and disappear. Only those willing to defend their mustache against all enemies should dare to spare the razor.
Personal courage comes in many forms. In combat, it might be courage under fire. In peace and garrison, it often takes the form of doing what is right despite the consequences. For the better part of a decade, the Army called this personal courage. Today, we increasingly call this “bystander intervention.”
At its heart, bystander intervention is the willingness to stand out in a crowd despite adversity. Bystander intervention is the willingness to be different. Too often these days, we see something wrong and make our complaints to the repository of all things: Facebook.
A military mustache tells those around us we will not simply blend into the crowd. We are not afraid to step forward, be individuals when necessary, and do what is right. Mustaches are not for quiet bystanders.
- Resiliency is essential to the wear of the military mustache.
You will receive jokes about your mustache. Common comments include evaluations of the aerodynamic and mass properties of your mustache: “Maybe you’d run faster if you shaved that.” References to caterpillars are common jokes as if it might one day change to a butterfly. Oddly, jokes about a “lip sweater” are very accurate; after hours in the rain, the upper lip remains warm. This teaches mental toughness, something many NCOs complain is lacking in our junior force today.
Those considering a mustache may shy away because of expected jokes, but the wearer must take a minute to put it in perspective. Those who have listened in resiliency training will know their next steps.
- First, describe the problem: People will make fun of my mustache.
- Second, what is the worst-case scenario: First Sergeant will see and get mad. He will yell. Everyone else then gets mad about my mustache. I run out in tears only to be attacked by birds looking for a place to nest. I flail my arms tearing my rotator cuff. I then get medically chaptered from the military. I can’t find work, and I end up living in a van by the river.
- Third, what is the best case scenario: My First Sergeant is so impressed with my mustache, he gives me an award. PAO takes a photo for posterity, and I move on to the regional mustache championship. I receive full per diem to travel for six months. I make so much showing my mustache off that I get out of the military, and a Hollywood casting agent sees my photo and offers me a six-figure job as a stunt double for Bert Reynolds.
- Finally, what is the most likely outcome: First Sergeant gives me a hard time but I know the regulation. My friends make a few jokes. We go on with the mission, and my upper lip remains warm in rain or shine.
Stepping out of the pack always bears risk, and we can begin catastrophizing. NCOs can never be so afraid of the consequences that we do not act. Resiliency training is one of many ways to improve these mental skills. A mustache is one more.
- Review of regulations is essential to the wear of a military mustache.
What is your first stop when a promotion board or NCO of the month board comes around? Do you download and read through the actual regulations, ADPs, and ADRPs? Most head straight to ArmyStudyGuide.com.
Those considering a mustache are advised not to use this resource; far too little exists there on mustaches. The NCO should open the regulation and read the requirements for himself. He should know it must taper, cannot extend past the edges of the lips, and cannot exceed 1/4 of an inch in length. Moreover, the mustache wearing NCO should know these regulations by heart as he will likely be called to defend his personal grooming choice with little prior warning.
While the NCO is reviewing the regulation prior to taking on such a distinguished hobby, he should take some time to review the other portions with which he is likely less familiar. Setting up his Class A uniform is likely second nature, but can he recite the proper setup of the female Class A? Where will he turn to mentor his soldier on proper appearance, customs and courtesies, warrior tasks and battle drills, and countless other opportunities that may arise? The mustache wearing NCO knows that the best place to turn is always the regulation itself.
- Self-reflection is essential to the wear of the military mustache.
Perhaps you have heard the old joke: How do you know an NCO needs a haircut? Trick question; an NCO always has a fresh haircut. Without debating the terms “joke” or “humor” here, we can agree that an NCO must look like an NCO at all times.
How many NCOs truly take control of their own grooming? Every Sunday, the studious NCO goes to the barber. The barber ensures the NCO remains in regulation. This is not possible or practical for a military mustache. The NCO must personally ensure he is within the regulation.
Every morning, the NCO with a mustache must take one extra step: he must stop in front of the mirror, look himself in the eyes, and evaluate himself. Does his mustache represent the standards of the Army? If not, what can he do to fix it? While the NCO is in the mirror, perhaps he can ask himself, beyond the mustache, how well will he represent the Army standards today?
Beyond the mustache
By now, you are certainly convinced that a mustache should—no must—be your next hobby. What if you are unable to grow a mustache? Perhaps the lessons are more important than the facial hair. Mustache or not, all good NCOs should pledge to uphold the lessons a mustache can teach us: plan to complete the mission, personal courage means never being a bystander, apply resilience models to daily situations, know the regulation from the source, and take a minute each morning to look yourself in the eyes and ask, “How will I represent the Army standards today?”
Oren Hammerquist is a US Army Sergeant and a 14G (Air Battle Management Systems Operator) currently serving as a team leader in the Air Defense Airspace Management and Regimental Aviation Element (ADAM/RAE), 2d Cavalry Regiment, Rose Barracks, Germany. He joined the military in 2006 as a 13D (AFATDS Specialist). He has served in Afghanistan and Qatar. He is married with four children. He holds a BA in criminal justice with a minor in paralegal studies and is currently completing his MA in English and creative writing. He was recently accepted as an intern with the Army Future Warfare Writing Project.
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