It must be admitted: as an accessory to the modern man's attire, the mustache has seen better days. Once celebrated as a sign of class and virility, it is now generally regarded as something of an anachronism.
Certainly, there are cadres of holdouts. Hipsters in New York's East Village and parts of Los Angeles wear them, but then more as an ironic or anarchistic gesture than with actual pride.
However, in a long-running military tradition, field exercises give the mustache a chance at a comeback. As annual training rolls into its second week, normally clean-shaven Soldiers will be seen with stubbly hair populating their upper lips.
This temporary mustache (and the facial hair we are talking about here is always temporary) goes by several names: "Field 'stache," "AT 'stache," and "Get that the hell off your face" seem to be the most popular.
"It's a Cav 'stache," said Spc. Justin Chandler, an analyst with the 27th Infantry Brigade's intelligence section. "The field 'stache has always been a pastime of mine."
Chandler, who spent several years on active duty with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment before joining the New York Army National Guard, said during time in the field, almost all of the junior enlisted Soldiers in his unit would grow temporary mustaches.
By July 31, Chandler had sprouted a distinct layer of fuzz under his nose.
"It's weak, but it's got potential," he said.
While the field 'stache is usually an enlisted phenomenon, there are a few officers who have given it a try. Sgt. Michael Parrow, a mortar crewman with the brigade's headquarters company, said he was growing his AT 'stache as a tribute to one grown Maj. Paul Hernandez, the brigade's plans officer, while he was deployed with the 27th.
"When he was in Afghanistan, he grew a really nice 'stache," Parrow said.
Hernandez said he had grown a mustache in Afghanistan over the course of five weeks.
"It was very intimidating," he said.
Hernandez explained that in Afghan culture, facial hair remains an important symbol of masculinity.
"I think I got more respect from the Afghans when I had that big, monster mustache," he said.
Parrow said that while he's pleased with his AT 'stache so far, there are problems tenant to keeping one.
"It itches a little bit," he said. "You get food stuck in it. You've got to maintain it, trim it up a bit."
The final word on the field 'stache -- or any other mustache worn while in military uniform -- is of course Army Regulation 670-1, which is where you can find the standards for growing an authorized facial garden.
Just remember, when you see aspiring Tom Sellecks and Teddy Roosevelts along the Fort Drum tank trails, that these brave individuals are thumbing their noses at modern convention, for reasons that may be personal, psychological, or tactical. But whatever the immediate motivation might be, they are upholding the time-honored Army tradition of the "field 'stache." Gentlemen, we salute you.