YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --
U.S. Airmen around the world can breathe a sigh of relief and let their hair down with new hairstyle options expanding from traditional buns to braids, ponytails and some styles in between.
According to some of Team Yokota’s female Airmen, this step toward inclusion helps strengthen a more diverse culture and eliminate health concerns.
A new Air Force Instruction update was published Feb. 10, 2021, giving female Airmen additional options to wear their hair; either in braids, or a ponytail that stops before the underarm inseam. Also, if bangs are worn, they may now touch the eyebrows but not cover the eyes.
“It allows us to move forward by acknowledging our differences,” said Staff Sgt. Teara Sapp Becker, 36th Airlift Squadron resource advisor NCO in charge and loadmaster instructor. “I think it’s a stepping stone to allow for a cultural understanding of different types of people.”
The idea for these changes came from a crowd-sourced campaign conducted by the Women’s Initiative Team to gather suggestions on how to improve dress and appearance rules. The WIT helped determine that previous grooming standards for females often led to health issues to include tension migraines, hair damage and even hair loss.
“When you have to put your hair in a bun, you want it to look nice and it needs to be in regulation,” said Airman 1st Class Odalys Martinez Elizondo, 374th Command Post emergency actions controller. “However, when you’re working 12 hours with your hair up tight, it gives you a headache eventually. It’s the first thing I remove when I get home.”
Another struggle Elizondo recalled with the previous hair standards was during her time in Basic Military Training where trainees simulated a deployed environment called Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training (BEAST) week. For a majority of her flight, putting the hair into braids proved to be a more manageable option to uphold previous standards while also completing the combat training.
The new standards allow for easier gear-donning and helmet-wear while still upholding a professional and neat appearance said Elizondo.
“For me, as aircrew, before I fly I repeatedly put on and remove my helmet for safety fittings and then pull it back into a bun,” Sapp Becker said. “As soon as I get on a plane, the bun comes down again for my helmet to go on.”
“With the new standards, I can wear my hair in a neat ponytail and I don’t have to constantly readjust my hair to put on equipment or leave my work area.”
The newest update is one of many resolutions that the Air Force continues to look at in order to continue to create a more modern and diverse culture.
“I’m glad that we have the newest update,” said Airman 1st Class Kimarri Fulton, 374th Security Forces Squadron customs immigration inspector. “It’s a relief that the Air Force is becoming more flexible and accommodating for their Airmen. I feel that this new regulation will have a positive effect on the future of the Air Force.”