Body Armor for Women…At Last

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Megan Locke Simpson / Army photo

Army Spc. Arielle Mailloux gets help adjusting her prototype female improved outer tactical vest from Army Capt. Lindsey Pawlowskia, both of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division female engagement team at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Darlene Iskra’s post here Tuesday about a possible divers’ memorial had a link to a page celebrating female military divers. If you followed it, you might have read an excerpt from an interview with Sue Trukken, a pioneering Navy diver, about her training in the late 1970s:

“…since I was small, nothing fit well. The dive dresses were too big, the boots were too big, and the breastplate stuck over my shoulders by several inches. I sewed towels into my shirts, making me look like a football player. This allowed the breastplate to sit higher, giving me some room to move my arms up. I wore my shoes covered by a pair of socks inside the boots so that the boots would not fall off of my feet. My tenders had to put three leather belts on my arms so that when the suit pressurized, the gloves would not blow off of my hands (it didn’t work).”

You know that woman wanted nothing more than to be a Navy diver – ill-fitting gear or not.

That’s what makes this better-late-than-never Army story so, ahem, fitting. With women now accounting for about 200,000 of the U.S. military’s 1.4 million strong force – that’s roughly 14% — it’s about time they started getting gear built for them.

Women assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Campbell, Ky., will soon be deploying to Afghanistan with body armor designed expressly for them. “Women were having a real problem with the fit of the IOTV [improved outer tactical vest],” Lynn Hennessey, a female body-armor designer, tells Donna Miles of the American Forces Press Service. “The size extra-small was too large for 85% of the females, so they weren’t getting a good fit. It was too loose and too long.”

Floppy clothes are one thing, but floppy body armor leaves gaps and chinks that bullets and shrapnel too often find. It’s also tougher to wear than properly-fitted gear. Female soldiers were ending up with bruised hips, and when they sat down they’d look like turtles pulling their heads into their shells because the torso pieces were too long.

If the women wearing the retooled body armor in Afghanistan give it their thumbs-up, the Army hopes to buy 3,000 sets for a full division’s female members next year.