Tinker lieutenant on team advocating change in women’s hair standards

  • Published
  • By April McDonald
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

A contracting officer in the Air Force Sustainment Center Contracting Directorate is doing her part to make a change for women who serve in the U.S. Air Force.

First Lieutenant Montana Pellegrini is part of the Air Force Women’s Initiative Team focused on changing hair standards for women.

When she commissioned in 2017, Pellegrini had plans to be a pilot. While training in the T-6 at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, she developed migraines and was medically disqualified to fly. Three years later, she has become an advocate for other women who suffer with headaches and other issues resulting from the current hair regulations.

Early this year, Pellegrini was on a social media forum when she noticed post after post contained complaints from women who had headaches from wearing their hair in a bun.

“Being someone who lost their pilot qualification due to migraines specifically, I definitely understand how impactful headaches can be on someone’s life,” she said. “Obviously, it changed my entire career.”

Her next move was a post in that forum that has the chance of changing many other careers.

“Finally, one day I posted in that group and said, ‘OK, we have all made it very clear that headaches and receding hair lines as a result of wearing our hair in a bun is an issue, so how can we fix it?,’” she said. Soon after that, she got in touch with the chief of the WIT, Major Alea Nadeem, to begin reforming the female hair standards.

The WIT, one of six teams under the umbrella of the Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group, was specifically created to address barriers for women in the Air Force and has championed numerous policy changes to benefit women. One recent policy change advocated by the WIT involved allowing pregnant and postpartum members the opportunity to attend professional military education. That policy change went into effect in July 2020.

Pellegrini works primarily with the Heath Care Line of Effort within the WIT.

“We are trying to find solutions to health care issues for females in the Air Force, or things that negatively impact our health,” she said.

Last month, Pellegrini and other members of the WIT traveled to the Pentagon to meet with Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass to discuss the current hair policy and propose changes to benefit female Airmen across the entire branch.

“It was incredible to meet with her,” Pellegrini said. “Being the first female Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, she definitely understood where we were coming from and was very receptive to the changes that we’re trying to make.”

Pellegrini and her team aren’t the first to research hair standards.

“We actually found a team of Airmen known as ‘Warrior Braids’ who have been working on this change for five years now and hadn’t made much traction – obviously, our hair is still in buns,” she said. “It was great for CMSAF to hear all of the research that was compiled and to get her thoughts on the change.”

The WIT is an all-volunteer organization that is open to all Airmen. The team meets once a month to discuss initiatives they’re working on, advancements they’ve made, and hardships they’ve faced.

“We work together as a group to find other people who want to help, but don’t know about a specific LOE,” she said. “If we need help, it’s easy to get that information during the monthly meeting.”

Pellegrini said she would love to help anyone interested in getting involved in a DAFBAWG.

“It’s definitely been eye-opening to see the issues other people have shed light on,” she said. “There’s a lot that I haven’t experienced in life in general, but in my career especially. It’s interesting to see the different issues other people face that they feel strong enough about to bring forward. I do encourage people who are interested in joining one of these DAFBAWGs to do so. It’s been a great experience.”