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Her Hair Story

  • Published
  • By by Staff Sgt. Sonia Clark
  • 145th Airlift Wing

Women’s History month this year has special meaning for women of the Air Force. As of February 10, 2021, changes were implemented to AFI 36-3093; changes allowing Air Force women to, “free the bun,” and wear their hair in up to two braids, or a single ponytail with bulk not exceeding the width of the head and the length not extending below the horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades. Additionally, women’s bangs may now touch their eyebrows but cannot cover their eyes. The changes are the result of the 101st Air Force uniform board.

The option to be, “done with the bun,” evoked various comments from the women of the North Carolina Air National Guard, who voiced their thoughts on the changes.

Master Sgt. Angelina Bynum, Student Flight Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge states, “I’m grateful they changed it, because that is a lot of stress on your hair when you have to put it in a bun.” Additionally, she hopes that the new regulations will be a teaching moment for those who were unsure about female hair regulations. “I understand how the bun can be tricky because, who is walking around with a ruler. But now, I hope that all genders feel confident in making corrections. I want the duties to be equal and split when it comes to making hair corrections. We need to make sure that all genders know how to approach each other when it comes to making corrections.”

Capt. Jessica Schlemmer, a pilot with the 156th Airlift Squadron speaks enthusiastically about the new changes. “I think that it has been great that the Women’s Initiative Team was able to get this going,” Captain Schlemmer, a 13-year Air Force veteran states. “It’s been a huge advantage not getting the bun headaches when we’re in the airplane for 24 hours. It’s been nice having the braids or ponytails instead of having it in a bun all the time especially from the air crew side from all the helmets and PPE we have to wear.”

QA Inspector, Master Sgt. Jennifer Moreau, 145th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who has 26 years of service and learned to braid in basic training supports the new regs, but has decided not to wear a ponytail. “We have so many people with so many different types of hair and it is sometimes hard to put it all up,” she advises. She continues, “So I think it’s good. But I don’t think I’ll be able to wear mine down. I’ve got more than two decades of wearing it up, and in my civilian job, I have to wear it up, too.”

Nevertheless, there are those who express their happiness at the chance to have more options. 145th Force Support Squadron Recruiter, Tech. Sgt. DeVan Abram states, “I am excited about the new changes. It is great that we’re military and have structure. But it is also nice to see a little flexibility on the way we express ourselves in this uniform.” She continued that she plans to shift to the Air Force Instruction revisions. “I’m natural, and often wear protective hairstyles. The new changes give me more options as to how I can wear my hair.”

The hair regulations are not the only Air Force Instruction changes over the last year. In February 2020, the Air Force revised its regulations formally allowing airmen to request a waiver to wear religious apparel for religious reasons. This change allows female airmen to wear the Hijab, or head scarf that can be made of a subdued material in a color that resembles the Airmen’s assigned uniform. The instruction states it must be free of designs or markings, except an Airman wearing the Airman Battle Uniform, or Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform can wear a matching camouflage Hijab.

145th Force Support Squadron Personnel Officer, Capt. Kelnisha Walls, who has been Muslim all her life, had a moment of self-reflection during the pandemic, and reverted back to wearing her Hijab in her personal life. She also happened to notice other Service Members wearing Hijab and began her research so that she could do the same. Capt. Walls drafted her request letter and asked a Wing chaplain to review it. It passed through the proper channels to the Wing Commander and was ultimately approved.

“It was as simple as that,” Capt. Walls states, “In case of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear gear training, I may have to take it off at that time,” Capt. Walls advises.

Though Capt. Walls now keeps her hair covered, she did have some thoughts on the Air Force Instruction revisions as it pertains to hair. She states, “It is a great time to be a woman in the Air Force. We will have healthier hair and we will be happy.”

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