Mustaches foster camaraderie for Air Force pilots
Inside the Gates
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTUU) - Red Flag-Alaska is an interactive combat training exercise that can occur as many as four times yearly, and is hosted by the U.S. Air Force.
Since the 1970s, pilots have been training for war in their backyards during Red Flag field training exercises. Air Force Capt. Kyle Casci said that the training prepares airmen by simulating live combat scenarios.
“If we could expose aircrew to the first 10 simulated combat missions, their chance of surviving additional combat missions after that went up drastically,” Casci said.
There can be as many as 70 pilots flying at once in the air space during drills, according to Casci. In order to make sure that training is successful, teamwork and a strong sense of communication are needed.
“The whole purpose of Red Flag is basically interoperability across different services, so different branches of the military, both with the United States, as well as different partner nations,” Casci said.
Pilots have continued a decades-long tradition of growing mustaches for good luck. Although it is a tradition to grow a mustache during Mustache March across the different branches of the military, Casci said that many participate in the tradition year round, especially during Red Flag.
“We just had the Australians up here for (Red-Flag) 22-3, and I would say at least half of their pilots were rocking the handlebar mustache,” Casci said.
The tradition stems back to Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, a world-renowned fighter pilot who had numerous confirmed kills during WWI and the Vietnam War. Olds earned the moniker of triple ace. During this time, Olds grew a mustache in defiance of orders from leadership. However, soon after his reputation as a triple ace spread and the name behind his mustache changed.
“It was kind of known as his bulletproof mustache. He actually never got shot down in Vietnam So all of his squadron mates, I’d say most of them grew mustaches,” Casci said. “Basically a superstition. It was kind of like their invisible force field. To project them as they went out on their combat missions and got them back home safely.”
Today, military members continue to grow mustaches not only to pay respect to Olds, Casci said, but also to allow his legacy to live on within the fighter pilot culture.
Editor’s note: this article has been updated to reflect the rank of Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.
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