Joint force Headquarters, Colorado –
The Adjutant General of Colorado Air National Guard Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards said he wears his "MOvember" mustache with pride.
Edwards was serving as vice wing commander of the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard during the late 1990s when one of his friends was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
"It reminded me and many of us (at the Wing) that we needed to be paying attention to our own health, getting our PSA (prostate-specific antigen) checked when we reached the appropriate age and following the recommendations from medical experts," he said.
As a requirement of military service, all service members must have an annual physical health assessment which typically covers the basics, but according to guardyourhealth.com, additional screenings may be necessary to catch health risks that develop over time, especially those directly related to one's age.
Edwards said he has become passionate about promoting men's health, not only because he became The Adjutant General of Colorado in 2007, but because he said that he wants to make others aware.
"Every physical I'd have, I'd get evaluated for diabetes, prostate cancer and whatever else I could get checked," he said. "Then I'd talk to my friends about doing the same."
Two more of Edwards' friends were also diagnosed with prostate cancer. Then, three years ago, he received the same diagnosis.
"I've been through a prostate cancer-type situation and part of the reason why we caught it when we did is because of the process of awareness and getting my PSA checked every year," Edwards said.
It is the same story with his other two friends. Because of their health awareness and routine checks, all three are survivors, Edwards said.
U.S. Army specialist Joshua Atkinson, Colorado Army National Guard medic and force protection guard, is another "MOvember" participant.
"My brother had a liver transplant when he was 11 years old," Atkinson said. "My family spent a lot of time in the hospital seeing him go through surgeries and recoveries so I became very health-conscious."
Atkinson is currently a student. He said that those life experiences made him pursue an education in exercise science and physical therapy.
"I think male stigma makes it harder for men than women to be health conscious. It's harder for men to schedule that appointment," he said.
"MOvember" is an opportunity to bring heightened awareness to men's health concerns.
"A lot of people, especially at school, comment on my mustache because they are used to seeing me clean-shaven," he said. "I get some 'nice stash' comments while others like to joke about it, but either way it is a conversation starter."
Edwards has a similar outlook.
"Sporting a MOvember mustache is not just a challenge. When things look different, people will ask questions," he said "Thus, it's an opportunity for me to tell my story and talk about men's health."
The Army National Guard promotes men's health throughout November. The Air National Guard promotes "Mustache March."
"We watch professional sports promote men's health so shouldn't we do the same as the Guard, as a military?" Edwards asked. "We are Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen, and we have the same health concerns and cares as our civilian population."
"We are looked at as an example for our society," he said. "Why wouldn't we want to promote health awareness from a military perspective?"
In an effort to foster awareness of men's health issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men's suicide, the Colorado National Guard encourages its members to participate in MOvember.
"Every day when I come through the gate and see my guard with his "MOvember" mustache, it makes me smile," Edwards said.
With the Air National Guard's awareness happening in a few months, "I'll get to do it again," Edwards said.