The Freedom To Serve - The New Tactical Cap

  • Published
  • By Col. Eries L.G. Mentzer, Commander Maxwell Air Force Base
  • Air University Public Affairs

The Freedom to Serve - it is possible when we can show up for service as our true, authentic self. With the approval of the Air Force Tactical Cap, it is now more possible for many Airmen.

My true, authentic self has naturally thick and wavy hair. On a good day, my hair wears perfectly, in all its full and thick glory and in the styling of my choosing. On most days, just a hint of humidity forces my hair in every direction like water on a Chia Pet. During my 24 years of service, multiple chemical treatments and products have shifted and shaped my hair into Air Force standards. These products and treatments are time consuming and costly, and have resulted in headaches, hair loss, and an ever-expanding forehead. Every military relocation leads to a new hair experiment whereby I trust hairstylist recommendations from those with similar hair, and often go through hair trauma before discovering a new stylist. One experiment was so tragic that I had to cut off most of my hair. By the time I find my stylist, we had orders to move. The hair trauma got real at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) while serving as the base Vice Commander. I spent much of my time outside with our Housing Partners and Naval Facility Public Works Team getting after very challenged infrastructure with my Civil Engineer Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Ryan LeBlanc and his predecessor Lt. Col. Emil Rebik. Quickly, with just a bit humidity, my hair would no longer fit my hat. Before long, I owned the three hat sizes. Whenever I stepped outside, I would pause to determine which hat fit the best. By the end of the day, none of them fit, despite multiple attempts to apply gel and pull my hair tight during the day. I resorted to changing out of uniform at the end of the day just to be able to walk to my car. It was exhausting.

I was not tired; I was tired of giving in to a limiting standard. I was also not alone. The more I spoke truth about my own hat challenges, the more other men and women in service, with many hair types, shared their hat challenges. It became clear the Air Force tactical cap with breathable mesh and an adjustable sizing band would be one size that truly fit all. About that time my family and I received our next assignment — Wing Commander at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Ala. The high humidity hair trauma of my past Maxwell experiences came rushing back.

I appealed to the Air Force to authorize the tactical caps. Unfortunately, bureaucracy in an organization as large as the Air Force can be a slow, significant barrier to change.

As a wing commander, I don’t have time to wonder if the actual hat I am wearing is the right hat. My previous Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Morgan and I made new caps by sewing rank and name tapes on the tactical caps available at AAFES. Our caps and local policy benchmarked the tactical caps worn in AFCENT. Soon resistance to our plan for a local policy began to grow. It was not the Air Force standard. So, we accelerated change by elevating awareness. We shared a picture of my fully combed out hair, along with pictures of my Command Chief and I in our tactical caps, explaining the challenge to the Air Force Senior Leaders visiting Maxwell. This was later presented to our Air Force Senior Leaders at CORONA, where our leaders make decisions for our force.

Our Air Force Senior Leaders at CORONA do not share the same hair challenges that I and many others share; there are not yet Airmen at the table with thick, wavy hair. But by helping them become aware of the barrier, we were able to break the barrier. Not long after CORONA, our leadership approved tactical caps Air Force wide. Today, Airmen with thick, wavy hair have more Freedom to Serve. By speaking truth to our barriers to service, we can drive the necessary change to cultivate our own Freedom to Serve.

So, what barrier is in your way? Command Chief Lee Hoover and I are listening. Help us understand how to break your barrier and improve your Freedom to Serve.