The U.S. Military Is Finally Fielding Body Armor Designed for Women

The U.S. military is slowly, but surely, moving to body armor that is comfortable for both men and women, allowing soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen of all types to wear clothing better tailored to their gender.

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The armed forces are increasing the diversity of body armor sizes and accommodating the needs of the troops, from helmets for those with longer hair to armor that’s easier for bladder relief.

The Pentagon, USA Today reports, is responding to growing numbers of women in the ranks—21 percent of the Air Force, 20.2 percent of the Navy, 15.4 percent of the Army, and 9.1 percent of the Marine Corps—by making more body armor options available for female service members.

Sexual dimorphism, a biological principle across all animal species, means human females tend to be slightly smaller than human males. Women and men also have a variety of different physical traits, obviously. The result, then, is that body armor built for men is often less than ideal for women.

The services have all tackled this issue in unique ways. The Marine Corps issues a wide variety of body armor sizes to male and female Marines. The Air Force issues lightweight armor to female airmen specifically designed for women. The Army introduced the new Generation III Female Improved Outer Tactical Vest (seen above) in the early 2010s and has developed a new lightweight helmet designed to fit hair wound into a bun, as well as extra-small body armor for bomb technicians.

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Until recently, the military hasn’t really addressed the issue of female urination in the field. As a result, female soldiers experienced greater infections and drank less water, making field duty considerably less pleasant for women than for men. In 2016, the Army introduced the ill-named FUDD, or Female Urinary Diversion Device. The FUDD allows female soldiers to pee standing up, without having to partially disrobe.

The new body armor options, as well as new kit like the FUDD, address the reality of a mixed-gender military. More comfortable, better-rested troops who don’t have to worry about where they’re going to pee next are simply more effective troops. And more effective troops lead to a more effective military—and a better-protected nation.

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