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From childcare to ponytails: How can Sword Athena help you?

Pilot with pony tail putting on gear

U.S. Air Force Capt. Kate “Flare” Archer, F-22 Pilot with the 27th Fighter Squadron, prepares her gear before stepping out to the flight line, on Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Feb. 25, 2021. The female hair regulation change in AFI 36-2903, allows ponytails and braids in uniform. Before the change, most women would have to wear their hair out of regulation in order for their gear to fit them properly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jaylen Molden)

Pilot climbs stairs

U.S. Air Force Maj. Nichole “Vapor” Ayers, 27th Fighter Squadron Assistant Director of Operations and F-22 Mission Commander, climbs into an F-22, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Feb. 25, 2021. Female pilots often struggled to fit their helmets over their buns and more often than not would ultimately have to let the bun down, Ayers prepares to strap in and slip her helmet over her head without worrying about having a bun in her way. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jaylen Molden)

Pilot climbs into F-22 Raptor

U.S. Air Force Maj. Nichole “Vapor” Ayers, 27th Fighter Squadron Assistant Director of Operations and F-22 Mission Commander, removes cover from the cock-pit of an F-22, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Feb. 25, 2021. As a result of the Womens Initiatives Team, Warrior Braids, and Sword Athena 2020, the hair regulation was changed in AFI 36-2903 to allow braids and ponytails in uniform. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jaylen Molden)

Pilot puts on helmet

U.S. Air Force Capt. Kate “Flare” Archer, F-22 Pilot with the 27th Fighter Squadron, puts her helmet on over her braid, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, Feb. 25, 2021. As a result of the Womens Initiatives Team, Warrior Braids, and Sword Athena 2020, the hair regulation was changed in AFI 36-2903 to allow braids and ponytails in uniform. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jaylen Molden)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AFNS) --

Recent updates to Air Force dress and appearance standards were a win for Airmen who advocated for a broader set of professional hairstyles for women in uniform. 

These changes, along with normalizing support to nursing mothers, identifying improperly fitting equipment, and demystifying seeking mental health assistance were among the central issues of Air Combat Command’s inaugural Sword Athena event last year. Sword Athena is designed to identify, tackle and present solutions to female and family-centric barriers to readiness using crowd-sourced topics and a Mission Area Working Group (MAWG) model. 

The Workplace and Training MAWG partnered with the DAF Barrier Analysis Working Group (DAFBAWG) Women’s Initiative Team’s (WIT) and Warrior Braids’ multi-year effort to champion a proposal for women to wear low ponytails and braids. Together, they presented a well-researched, convincing case to retired Gen. Mike Holmes, then the Commander of Air Combat Command. Holmes supported the proposal and personally sent a signed memorandum to the Air Force Uniform Board and other senior Air Force leaders.

“Most women in their tactical action of duty had to wear their hair out of regulations to have the gear fit them, and we presented a better solution,” said Capt. Jessie “FONIX” James, Workplace and Training MAWG co-chair. Additional concerns of the existing hair regulations included long-term hair damage, migraines and creating an inclusive service environment for all Airmen. 

Participating in SA2020 helped the MAWG members better define their issue and what would be required to make a change. Topics considered: funding, if the change could be implemented either through a signed memo or policy change and whether additional support and advocacy were required. 

“By presenting a well-researched, clearly defined problem, solution and ask, change becomes more possible,” said James. 

Other SA2020 results included nursing pods in unit areas and designating Child Development Centers as No Hat, No Salute zones.  

“Do not give up!” said Master Sgt. Johnathon Lind, a WIT, Warrior Braids, and also a Workplace and Training MAWG member. “There is personal risk in attempting to make changes. Be brave and follow your heart (and the evidence). Research and provide your leadership with evidence and facts that they can reflect on to make the right decision.” 

Sword Athena 2021 is launching later this month and the SA2021 MAWGS welcome your ideas to communicate on the following topics: Reducing Predictable Stressors for Airmen in Relation to Mental Health, Creating a Safe Psychological Space, Workplace and Training, Family and Children, Spouse Inclusivity, and ACC Total Force. 

To contribute to the topics, visit https://usaf.ideascalegov.com/a/ideas/recent/campaign-filter/byids/campaigns/204/stage/unspecified.

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