Sir! Military women want better uniforms! Sir!

Monday - 8/30/2010, 6:48am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Of all the quality of life issues, uniforms are among the top ones for women who serve in the Armed Forces. That is why each of the services are researching how best to develop a female-only uniform.

And the Army is leading the way by working on a version of the regulation combat uniform, which could begin to roll out to women troops by 2014.

The Army said the Program Executive Officer Soldier (PEO Soldier) has been working on a female combat uniform since 2005. In 2008, they began conducting focus groups with female soldiers, and learned a few things.

PEO Soldier developed a punch list of uniform characteristics that women soldiers didn't care for:

  • Over-sized shoulder seams,
  • The baggy shape of the uniform,
  • A fit that was generally not friendly to a woman's curves.

The new combat uniform, which is still under development, is designed to be more form fitting, and appropriate for women's bodies, with more room in the hips, and legs.

The uniform also will include an elastic waistband, shorter crotch than the standard men's combat uniform, a more tailored jacket, and new positions for rank insignia and name tapes. Jackets and trousers will be offered in 13 different sizes.

Maj. Sequana Robinson, who works at PEO Soldier, and is testing the new uniform, said she loved it, and the uniform with extra room in all the right places "makes a world of difference."

The Army said 600 female soldiers are set to evaluate the new uniform in January. It then has to be approved by the Army Uniform Board before being issued to troops.

The issue of uniforms also is of interest to the 52,000 active duty, and 10,000 reserve women who serve in the Navy and the Marine Corps. They made their feelings known to the top Navy brass at the recent 23rd annual Sea Services Leadership Association (SSLA) women's symposium meeting in Washington.

Rob Carroll, who heads the Navy's Uniform Matters Office, said the Navy embarked on its own review of all uniforms several years ago, with special attention to uniforms for women.

"In 2003, then-CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) Adm. Vernon Clark established a special working group, called Task Force Uniform, to review and evaluate Navy uniforms and uniform policies.

Carroll said the working group recommended a number of changes addressing the needs of Navy and Marine women: optional use of uniform skirts, new regulations on the use of handbags and eliminating the requirement for "granny bags" (an older form of purse or handbag).

The Uniform Matters panel at the SSLA women's symposium is generally one of the better attended events of the meeting, reflecting the high interest in a well-fitting uniform. Attendees ranged from seasoned senior officers to junior officers, and senior non-commissioned officers. Women are urged to bring their concerns about duty in the military to the meeting, even given permission to speak freely in 'open microphone' sessions directly to ranking flag officers.

The Uniform Matters panel heard a number of concerns by Navy and Marine women about their current uniforms:

  • The Uniform Matters officers were asked when female chiefs and officers might have available "an overblouse-style shirt" for khaki uniforms. The response: such a shirt is now being evaluated for possible use in the near future.

  • A senior Navy officer was mildly, but candidly critical of her camouflage combat uniform (whose design is identical to those the U.S. Army issues to its soldiers), and drew loud cheering and applause when she quipped, "as someone who does not have the enhanced attributes in certain areas, but has enhanced attributes in other areas, this uniform really looks like crap on 95 percent of our females!"

  • A Navy lieutenant commander who normally handles legislative matters says she normally wears civilian business suits for her work, and went to a Washington-area Navy Exchange in search of uniform pants to wear at the SSLA conference. "I normally wear a size 8, and today, I'm standing before you in a size 14 with Spanx on. If you don't know what that is, it's a girdle!" She also criticized the fit and styling of the uniform pants she purchased, saying it appeared that the design had come from the 1950s. She asked the Uniform Matters panelists when the Navy would acknowledge that it needs help in sizing and designing uniform pants for women in 2010, and suggested that they consult the fashion industry and retailers for advice. In response, Rear Adm. Steve Romano, who heads up the Exchange Services Command in Virginia Beach, Va., says the Navy is trying to get funding for an extensive anthropomorphic study that would allow a body survey of navy women to get a more accurate profile of uniform sizing. And he said he is currently in discussions with representatives from fashion designer Ralph Lauren on advising the Uniform Matters regarding sizing concerns.