When Maddie Clegg, 8, and her brother, Ethan, 6, stood beside mom, Maxine, at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas during a recent military homecoming, the whole family sported an unusual accessory: black mustaches.
The Clegg kids — holding signs that read "My Hero Is Home" and "Welcome Home Dad" — were eager to welcome home their dad, Lt. Col. Nate Clegg, a C-130J pilot, who has been deployed since 2022.
Maxine, 34, held a sign that said "Kiss My Stache."
As Clegg's plane landed and he disembarked, their reason became clear: Nate, 39, had grown a mustache on his deployment overseas.
"We saw Nate grow a mustache on the deployment and we wanted to make him laugh and match what he looked like when he landed," Maxine tells TODAY.com.
Maxine tells TODAY.com that Maddie and Ethan "were freaking out" with excitement to welcome their dad home.
"They didn’t get to talk to him as much as I did," Maxine explains, adding the time change made communication more difficult. "They could never talk to him, because they were in school, so they were super excited to get back to normal."
Maddie was the first to hug Nate, sprinting into her dad's arms.
"She was so emotional and crying," Maxine says of the reunion. "The last time he deployed was in 2016, so Ethan was in my belly and Maddie was 2."
Nate says walking off the plane and seeing his family mimicking his facial hair was "hilarious." By the time he reached his family on the other side of the airstrip, the kids' mustaches had fallen off due to the heat, but his wife's was still on.
"Our first kiss was with her wearing her fake mustache," Nate tells TODAY.com.
While military facial hair guidelines have evolved over decades, mustaches have remained within regulation and are often grown by deployed service members.
It's also not uncommon to see airmen sporting 'staches this time of year. 'Mustache March' pays tribute to Air Force Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, a triple-ace fighter pilot — meaning he shot down at least 15 enemy aircraft during aerial combat — during World War II and Vietnam.
Known for his courage in wartimes, Olds was also famous for his handlebar mustache: a gesture of defiance at the time for letting facial hair grow beyond regulation length. Olds called it his "bulletproof mustache."
"I've only grown one mustache before and never on a deployment," Nate tells TODAY.com. "Because I was in a leadership role (during this deployment) I saw it as a way to grow morale and camaraderie."
As for whether or not Nate plans to keep his mustache, he is undecided.
“I’ll keep it for the rest of this month,” he says, adding that he has seen “multiple mustaches that have come back from deployments and never left.”