For women in military combat, new armor is a matter of life and death

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WASHINGTON — For Air Force Maj. Julie Roloson, the new body armor introduced specifically for women is more than a matter of fit and weight. It could be life or death.

Roloson, 34, commands the 88th Security Forces Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and says the new vest, suitable for women and lighter than the men’s versions, gives him a better chance to fight and survive. shoot.

Combat and shooting. Basic requirements for combat jobs, all of which the Pentagon opened up to women five years ago. From helmets to accommodate a bun to maternity flight suits, gear designed for women is being developed and distributed, changing the way military troops, previously one size fits all, fit all.

“So when you’re firing the M-4, you need to have the butt of the gun at a very specific point on your shoulder to provide good stability,” Roloson said. “And that was always hard to do in the legacy system, but this new system had that extra cutout. The shooter’s cut as we colloquially call it, which right off the bat made a huge difference.”

The Air Force has the highest percentage of female service members at 21% of its active duty force. The Navy comes next with 20.2%, followed by the Army at 15.4% and the Marine Corps at 9.1%, according to Pentagon figures. The services sometimes combine efforts to develop gear, such as a new combat flight suit for women in the Army, Air Force and Navy, according to Lt. Col. army Naim Lee, project manager for soldier’s clothing and personal equipment. It is expected to be delivered to airmen in October 2021.

Meanwhile, each of the services runs equipment and uniform programs specifically targeting their own troops.

The Marines accommodated the women, in part, by adding more sizes to their existing body armor instead of designing new gear, said Emanuel Pacheco, a Marine Corps spokesman. The research determined that the redesign for women compromised protection.

“Our body armor is gender neutral and designed to better fit all of our Marines,” Pacheco said.

Two years ago, the Navy began a phased replacement of body armor for male and female sailors, said Lt. Cdr. Patricia Kreuzberger, Navy spokeswoman. All new body armor purchases are gender-specific, she said.

The military has several programs that aim to meet the needs of female soldiers. Among them:

  • Helmets: The Army has developed a new model that allows female soldiers to wear updos, according to Army program manager Kyle Miller.
  • Bomb suits: Women make up 3% of soldiers in its explosive ordnance disposal specialty, the units that have carried out extensive and dangerous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to counter roadside bombs. The bomb suits had not been designed for smaller men or women, according to Major Justin Bond, a program officer. The Army has added an extra-small size that better fits and protects women.
  • Calls duty/nature: Urinating during combat missions is a fact of life and a matter of health. The military, known for its love of jargon and abbreviations, began issuing the FUDD, Female Urinary Diversion Device, to deploying female soldiers in 2016, according to Lee. The funnel and tube system allows women to urinate standing up without undressing. During combat missions, women without a system were prone to infections or intentionally drank less, leading to dehydration. Next year, the military will conduct a survey on how to improve the device. The Air Force is also developing a device that will allow female pilots strapped into cockpits to urinate during long combat missions.

“Bladder relief is a huge concern,” said Maj. Saily Rodriguez, who works on equipment for women in the Air Force. Female pilots “tactically dehydrated” to fly missions, putting their health and safety at risk.

Women’s flight suits are another priority for the Air Force, Rodriguez said. G-suits, which have pockets of air that inflate around the lower body to regulate blood flow during G-force maneuvers, are modified to fit women who have narrower waists and wider hips than men, she said. Flight suits for women in their second trimester of pregnancy are also being developed.

For women on security duty, like those Roloson commands, the new body armor has lightened the burden they carry for hours at checkpoints and in patrol vehicles. The former body armor drove his belt and holster into his body, a concern as the Air Force had seen an increase in skeletal and muscle injuries, Rodriguez said.

The new armor, Roloson said, “just makes it a lot easier for me to move around, which is important when you think of someone who works on patrol all day. They’re seated and need to be able to get out and in pretty quickly. . “

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