The Seattle Times reports that body armor issued by the U.S. Military doesn’t fit female soldiers. “It can actually be painful because of the way the plates are shaped,” former Army sergeant Rebekah Havrilla told the Times. Havrilla, who served in Afghanistan for a year between 2006 and 2007, said the body armor she was given could be very restrictive in combat situations.
“Trying to get that arm into a shooting position was slightly challenging,” she said.
The Defense Department estimates that women have composed 12% of combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade, yet military gear hasn’t caught up with those numbers. In addition to ill-fitting body armor, female soldiers often complain that combat fatigues — designed for men — are too loose or bulky.
The Seattle Times cites a 2009 survey of service members of both genders. Most agreed that the equipment they were issued was “not sized or designed for women.”
Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain and leader of the nonprofit Women in the Military Project, believes the steps taken to improve conditions for women since 2009 haven’t been enough. Manning says that the backpacks worn by soldiers, which can weigh upwards of 60 pounds, could be redesigned to distribute the weight more evenly for a woman. The military could also increase the availability of the P-Mate, a disposable sanitary device that allows women to urinate from a standing position.
Since 2009, the Army has spent approximately $620,000 to design a new uniform for women in combat. 98% of female soldiers who have tried the new fatigues approve of their fit, but the uniform hasn’t been approved yet. Even if approved, the uniforms may not become standard until 2013.
Body armor, meanwhile, “[isn't] a priority issue for the Army, in the grand scheme of things,” says Havrilla.
Army Major Gen. Peter Fuller, speaking to a House Armed Services subcommittee in March, claimed that the female shape poses too great a challenge for body armor designers. “The physics associated with trying to have the body armor work in a complex shape is just a bridge too far right now,” he said.
Photo credit: The U.S. Army (Creative Commons)