Lawmakers Are Fighting for Better-Fitting Female Body Armor for US Troops

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Female Army soldiers IOTV body armor
Soldiers with 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum surveys an obstacle during a human factor evaluation on the Modular Scalable Vest Gen II with PEO Soldier October 29, 2019. (U.S. Army photo/David Jordan)

Bipartisan bills to boost the availability of better-fitting body armor for female troops and require a report on preventable injuries attributed to bad fits are gaining support in both the House and Senate.

"I'm proud to cosponsor the bipartisan Female Body Armor Modernization Act" aimed at ensuring that body armor and personal protective equipment (PPE) is readily available for women in the ranks, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, a former Navy Reserve lieutenant commander, said Tuesday in a statement announcing his support for the legislation.

Last week, Sens. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina; Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, also announced their support.

"The growing bipartisan support for this legislation demonstrates just how important and common sense it is," Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who introduced the bill and who served in Iraq and Kuwait before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in the iowa Army National Guard, said in a statement.

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Similar legislation backed by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, who served in the Army Reserve, and Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-New Jersey, an Annapolis graduate and helicopter pilot who left the Navy as a lieutenant commander, has been introduced on the House side.

Ernst and Peters cited a 2018 report from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, which said that, despite efforts by the military to accommodate a variety of body types, "servicewomen continue to lack accessibility to this new equipment for both training and deployment."

"Now that all military occupations have been opened to women, there is an increased need for female-appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and combat gear," DACOWITS said.

The report went on to say that the supply of female-specific gear was limited and only issued to women about to deploy.

In May 2018, then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford acknowledged the problem and said the service branches had to move faster to get gender-specific body armor into the field.

"We knew in 2016 that the standard equipment -- particularly as women began to occupy fields where they hadn't historically been, and they were wearing combat armor, packs, those kinds of things [that] had been built for the average male and not the average female -- that we would have to adjust that," he said at a hearing of the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee.

The bills in the House and Senate would require more studies on better-fitting equipment and call for the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to track data on injuries attributable to the issuance of new PPE.

Under the legislation, the DHA would also have to report to Congress in fiscal 2025 on the prevalence of preventable injuries attributed to ill-fitting or malfunctioning personal protective equipment.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Read more: Pentagon IDs 2 Airmen Killed in Afghanistan Crash

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