Military women gripping already

Apr 15, 2013 by

For women headed to newly opened combat roles, there’s this very practical consideration: body armor.

California Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee and founder of the Women in the Military Caucus, said last week during a subcommittee hearing that she is concerned that women — now that they can serve in combat — will be encumbered by ill-fitting body armor designed for men.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat in January, overturning the 1994 Pentagon rule restricting women from artillery, armor, infantry and other combat roles. Women had lobbied the Pentagon to end the restrictions since many have found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(PHOTOS: Women in combat)

But Army and Marine Corps officials say the new generation of body armor is responding to that need in order to alleviate the problems women already serving say they’re facing.

For example, the Army’s improved outer armor vests designed specifically for female soldiers weigh six pounds less than those for men, according to Army Brig. Gen. Paul Ostrowski.

“Going forward, we will always field female body armor with our deploying forces,” Ostrowski said, adding the Army will soon distribute 600 sets of female body armor as part of the Rapid Fielding Initiative, the Army’s program to develop and outfit soldiers with the most modern equipment available.

“From now on,” he declared, “every female soldier deploying in theater will deploy with female body armor.”

Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) praised the improvements in the Army body armor, tailored to better fit women, citing firsthand experience.

“I’ve been briefed on the new, improved outer tactical vests several times. I’ve actually had an opportunity to try it on. I think the improvements are tremendous,” she said, adding it is “critically important” to protect the new influx of women now able to serve in front-line roles.

“Prior to the adjustments, it was very difficult for a woman who was wearing the standard-issue vest to raise her arm properly in order to properly fire a rifle,” Tsongas added. “So beyond the comfort issues and just being able to better distribute the weight and all that, it’s critically important … that women are adequately protected to do the task at hand.”

via Women worry about body armor in new combat roles – Juana Summers – POLITICO.com.

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