The U.S. Air Force is finally ready to begin fielding body armor specifically designed for female airmen in Security Forces units.
The service on Monday said Security Forces airmen, sometimes called defenders, will soon start receiving the updated, tailored gear to wear while guarding bases worldwide. The 23rd Security Forces Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia will be the first to receive the latest attire in the next two weeks, according to Air Force Materiel Command spokesman Brian Brackens.
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"We've received the initial sets of these systems, and we are now getting ready to send them off," Maj. Saily Rodriguez, female fitment program manager at Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Human Systems Division, said in an Oct. 26 release.
The division, which falls under Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, initially tested eight prototypes. Ultimately, TSSI of Harrisonburg, Virginia, got a contract to develop the armor, known as the Aspetto "Mach 'V'" body armor system.
"We've given them a thumbs up, and are working to deliver them to our female defenders in Security Forces" Rodriguez said.
Last year, Gen. Arnold Bunch, head of AFMC, said the Air Force was pursuing better-fitting body armor for female security forces members, cutting down on cumbersome bulk and pursuing better fit.
"The defender gear is not optimally built on [women], and we're trying to take action," Bunch told reporters last November. Bunch said the Air Force wanted a "try and buy approach" to test items, collect feedback, and then get the new uniforms out in the field as soon as possible.
Female Security Forces members had a few common complaints of the current standard-issue body armor: Women said that if they stay seated for a period of time, "it cuts off circulation to the legs because the ballistic plate rests directly on the thighs," the release said.
Another complaint? The body armor vest often scraped their hips -- especially when they would run -- when fundamentally, the vest should sit up higher on their chest, Rodriguez said.
"One of the main things we wanted to check was to make sure the pockets [on the vest] would properly accommodate the ballistic plates," added Daniel Mountjoy, a lead engineer with the Human Systems Division. "If the plate is not sitting in there correctly it's not going to sit on the defender correctly, and it's not going to cover the vital organs like it should."
Roughly 7,000 Aspetto vest kits have been made and will be delivered to active-duty, Guard and Reserve units through July 2021, officials said.
The new armor features a reinforced drag handle; design elements to help the plate carrier retain its shape; and a quad release feature that allows an airman to take off the carrier in one second, according to a description of TSSI's Aspetto.
"What we love about the Aspetto system, is that it conforms to the [female] body and doesn't move," said Christine Villa, a logistician with the Human Systems Division, in the release. "It stays with them, whether they are running or shooting a firearm."
"They no longer have to adjust the armor, which was another issue with the old vest, having to adjust to get proper form in order to shoot their rifle," she added.
The service launched a project in 2019 within AFLCMC focused on gathering female perspectives to deliver better uniforms, including maternity uniforms and flight suits. The initiative was prompted by then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein's mission to redesign female uniforms after many years of ill-fitting equipment. The efforts have also been supported by the Department of the Air Force's Barrier Analysis Working Group within the Women's Initiative Team, which has been instrumental in encouraging change for outdated or restrictive policies.
The military overall is responding to increased numbers of women in the ranks with improved dress and appearance practices.
Women currently make up about 21% of the Air Force. According to a recent USA Today report, 20.2% of the Navy is female; 15.4% of the Army; and 9% of the Marine Corps.
-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.
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