There are still some Americans who oppose the notion of women in the U.S. military serving in combat zones or in active combat. The reality of the modern military, however, has eliminated that as a topic of discussion. Women already are serving in combat zones in a variety of positions — truck drivers and helicopter pilots, for instance — and a commission recently recommended that they be allowed to serve fully in combat. If there is a problem with women fulfilling those roles, particularly in the Army, it is not a question of competence or bravery. Rather, it is that the current unisex uniform can expose women to unnecessary danger and even death.
Standard issue clothing and protective gear is designed for men. Women in Afghanistan, Iraq and other posts of duty must make do with uniforms designed for a body shape other than their own. Consequently, they don clothing that is too long or too wide. They often wear ill-fitting boots and cope with body armor that can make it difficult to do their jobs. The Pentagon, at last, has acknowledged the problems and is working to correct them.
The Army, for example, reports that it is well on the way to producing a uniform that is based on female body dimensions. Its engineers have undertaken an anthropometric survey of thousands of troops to better gauge body shapes and measurements. The result, they say, will be a combat uniform that provides greater safety and comfort. It’s about time. The Air Force and Marines already provide some combat uniforms and other gear in women’s sizes.
Women in the Army and other branches of the service have worked and fought alongside men with little complaint. In many instances, they’ve done so in uniforms and body armor that are so ill-fitting that it is sometimes difficult for them to handle their weapons properly or to sit comfortably in a vehicle. The new uniforms for women, which could be widely available by the end of the year, undoubtedly will improve performance and save lives. Women in the military surely are entitled to that.