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December 11, 2020 4 min read


Women in Combat Wear Armor Designed for Men.

That's finally changing in 2020

WASHINGTON -- For Air Force Maj. Julie Roloson, fresh body armor being fielded specifically for women is more than an issue of weight and fit. It could be death or life.

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. 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.

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

Until recently, the military hasn't really addressed the problem of female urination in the field. As a result, female soldiers experienced greater infections and drank water, making field duty considerably less pleasant for women compared to men. In 2016, the Army introduced the ill-named FUDD, or Female Urinary Diversion Apparatus. 


The FUDD enables female soldiers to pee standing up, without having to partially disrobe.The new body design options, in addition to new kit such as the FUDD, address the truth of a mixed-gender army. More comfy, better-rested troops that don't have to worry about where they are going to pee next are simply more effective troops. And more effective troops result in a more effective military--along with a better-protected nation.

The Air Force has the maximum proportion of women service associates at 21 percent of its active-duty force. The Navy is at 20.2% followed by the Army at 15.4% and the Marine Corps at 9.1%, according to the Pentagon figure. It's scheduled to be sent to aviators in Oct. 2021.


Roloson, 34, commands the 88th Security Forces Squadron in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and says that the new vest, tailored to match women and lighter than men's versions, gives her a better opportunity to fight and take.

Shooting and fighting. Fundamental requirements for combat jobs, all which the Pentagon started to women five decades back. From helmets to accommodate a hair bun to maternity flight suits, equipment designed for women is being developed and issued, changing the way formerly one-male-size-fits-all military outfits troops.

"So when you're shooting the M-4, you want to have the butt of the weapon at a very pretty specific place on your shoulder to make sure good stability," Roloson said. "That was always hard to do in the legacy system, but this new one had that additional cut out. The shooter's cut as we sort of colloquially refer to it as, which just right off the bat made a huge bit of difference."

Meanwhile, each of the services operates gear and uniform applications specifically targeting its own troops. The Marines' have accommodated girls, in part, by adding more dimensions of its current body armor vests rather than designing new equipment, said Emanuel Pacheco, a Marine Corps spokesman. Research determined the redesign for girls compromised protection. "Our body armor is gender-neutral, also made to fit all our Marines," Pacheco said.

The Army has several programs that aim to address the demands of soldiers. One of them:

  • Helmets: The Army has developed a new model which permits women soldiers to match hair buns, based on Kyle Miller, an Army program director.
  • Bomb suits: Women make up 3% of their soldiers in its Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialization, the units that saw extensive, dangerous duty in Iraq and Afghanistan dealing with roadside bombs. Bomb suits hadn't been designed for younger guys or women, according to Maj. Justin Bond, a program manager. The Army added an extra-small dimension that better fits and protects women.
  • Duty/nature entails: Urinating on combat assignments is a simple fact of life and also a matter of wellbeing. The Army, known for the love of jargon and abbreviations, began issuing the FUDD, Female Urinary Diversion Device, to deploying women soldiers in 2016, according to Lee. On combat missions, women with no programs were subject to infections or intentionally drank less, leading to dehydration. Next year, the Army will conduct a survey on the best way best to improve the device. The Air Force is also creating a system which will enable women pilots bombarded by harnesses into cockpits to urinate on long battle missions.

"Bladder relief is a massive concern," said Maj. Saily Rodriguez, who works on equipment for girls in the Air Force. Girls pilots have"tactically dehydrated" to be able to fly missions, imperiling their wellbeing and security.

Flight suits for women are just another focus for the Air Force, Rodriguez explained. G-suits, that have air pockets which inflate around the lower body to regulate blood circulation through maneuvers that generate G-forces, are being modified to match women who have narrower waists and larger hips than men, '' she said.

For those women on security duty, like those that Roloson commands, the new body armor has lightened the load that they carry for hours at a time at checkpoints and in patrol vehicles. The old body armor jabbed her belt and holster into her body, an issue as the Air Force had seen a spike in skeletal and muscular injuries, Rodriguez said.


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