The U.S. military is not providing adequate body armor and other protective gear to all of its female service members, increasing their risk of injury and compromising their readiness for battle, a bipartisan group of senators argued Wednesday as they unveiled new legislation to overhaul the current system.
The bill, introduced by Republican Sen. and combat veteran Joni Ernst of Iowa, calls on the military to take new steps to ensure each service is procuring and fielding body armor that better fits and protects women. Ms. Ernst and other proponents argue that the often-overlooked issue presents a major problem for females in combat, and they contend that the military has failed to move beyond gear that has traditionally been designed for men.
“Women continue to make strides in serving in critical roles within our nation’s military. As a woman who served in combat and commanded troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and with my own daughter who is going through training right now at West Point, I understand just how important it is for all service members to be properly equipped for the battlefield,” Mr. Ernst said in a statement Wednesday. “Right now, female service members are facing injuries due to ill-fitting equipment. We must do better for our military men and women.”
Sens. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Democrat, Martha McSally, Arizona Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, are co-sponsoring the legislation.
Ill-fitting equipment presents additional challenges beyond protection from injury in the field. Research has shown that inadequate gear can lead to deeper issues within military units across all services.
“Properly fitting equipment indirectly affects overall morale and unit cohesion. A researcher at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury found that units in which Service members were more prone to injury were less cohesive and performed worse on complex cognitive tasks,” reads a recent report from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. “Early access to properly fitting gear can help keep unit members healthy and, as a result, more effective and mission-ready.”
The bipartisan Senate bill calls on each service to conduct more research and collaborate with industry and academia to develop the next generation of body armor and protective gear. It also would require better record-keeping of all injuries attributed to malfunctioning or ill-fitting equipment.