AUSTIN, Texas -- Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., has asked Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to review a "gender-neutral" policy of issuing all West Point cadets unisex Army Combat Uniforms because it then forces women entering the academy to purchase better-fitting uniforms designed for female bodies.
"While on its face, the uniform policy may appear to be a gender-neutral policy, it does not appear to be so in effect. As the academy celebrates 40 years since its first female cadets graduated, it is past time to ensure that female cadets have equal access to uniforms that fit," Hassan wrote in a letter sent Monday to McCarthy. "The disproportional impact of this policy on female cadets may unintentionally send a message to female cadets that they are second-class citizens."
When the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., issues full sets of gear to incoming cadets, that gear includes five sets of unisex Army Combat Uniforms, known as ACUs. This distribution does not include alternate sizes of the uniform, which are called the ACU-Female, according to Hassan's letter.
Any cadet wishing to wear the ACU-Female must purchase it on their own, with their own money.
"However, cadets do not even have access to the Post Exchange that sells the ACU-Female uniforms until after they have completed their initial six-week cadet basic training," Hassan wrote. "They must wear the original-issued uniform throughout those first six weeks, even if it does not properly fit. These cadets are thereby forced to wear uniforms that do not match the expected standards for uniform appearance."
Because cadets go straight into training, they also miss the 10-day window to return any unused uniforms for a different size, she said. New ACUs cost about $100 per set. Meanwhile, "their counterparts do not have to spend a dime," Hassan wrote.
The alternative female uniform was created following a 2008 Army report that found the unisex ACU favors men and fits many women badly in the shoulders, bust, hips and crotch.
"The appearance of uniforms is of great importance to a military institution that prides itself on following high standards of personal appearance. Incoming cadets may encounter stigma or lose confidence from being forced to wear ill-fitting uniforms," Hassan wrote.
The first graduating class from West Point to include women was in 1980. There were 62 women among those cadets to graduate and to receive commissions as second lieutenants in the Army. The 2020 class included 229 women among 1,113 graduates, according to the academy public affairs office.
Hassan asked McCarthy to answer four questions by Oct. 30. Those questions focus on why the female-sized uniforms are not an option during initial issuance of uniforms, what needs to be done so that they can be included and whether McCarthy will commit to making the change. She also asked whether women who enlist in the Army are able to access the ACU-Female sizes during their initial issuance of uniforms.