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Unisex Uniforms Debut As Army Opens Units To Women

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The US Army debuted its new unisex combat uniform as women are welcomed into units. (Source: www.army.mil)

The US Army debuted its new unisex combat uniform as women are welcomed into units. (Source: http://www.army.mil)

FORT GORDON, Ga. (AP) — A new combat uniform with special consideration to the female body is now available at Fort Gordon, almost a month after the Army announced plans to open all units and military jobs to women by 2016.

The March debut of the Combat Uniform-Alternate is the first in a series of moves the Army hopes to make in the next three years to help female soldiers feel like more professional members, officials said.

With narrower shoulders, a slightly tapered waist and a more spacious seat, the unisex clothing line has been in the works since 2009 and is being issued to all installations – except Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. – for men and women with a smaller or more slender body.

Soldiers will soon be able to order the new uniform at the Fort Gordon Military Clothing store, according to Stefan Marks, the post exchange’s general manager.

Marks said all 16 sizes of the new line will be available to try on at the store in two to three weeks.

“After a soldier finds the right fit, they may place an order for the uniform, which will then be delivered to the store,” Marks said.

Unlike the decades-old Army combat uniform, which comes in 36 sizes and was designed principally by men for men, the alternate clothing line was created to fit a broader range of body types, officials say.

The trousers feature wider areas at the hips, waist and backside; elastic around the waistband instead of pull string; adjusted pockets and knee-pad inserts; and a shortened rise in pants.

The jackets include adjusted rank and name tape positioning, adjusted pockets and elbow-pad inserts, slimmer shoulders, a thinner and more fitted waist, and a longer and wider coat bottom.

Also, buttons are replacing the fabric fastener pockets.

According to a 2008 Army focus group report, “unisex” combat uniforms designed for men fit many women badly in the shoulders, bust, hips and crotch and left many buying larger sizes.

The Army designed a solution and had 400 active-duty and 200 National Guard and Reserve female soldiers fit-test the line in 2011.

Eighty-six percent said the coat fit better and 71 percent said the trousers fit better, Maj. Laverne Stanley, the assistant product manager of soldier clothing and individual equipment, said in a statement.

“An overwhelming majority, 94 percent of all respondents, said that the cut of the new ACU-A allowed them to present a better military appearance,” she said.

Roughly one in every six soldiers is a woman, and last month, the Army announced that the ratio likely will increase by early 2014, when the service will continue its efforts to open all closed units and military occupational specialties to women.

In 2012, the Army opened 14,000 positions in closed units to female soldiers, and this year, senior leadership has signaled its intent to open an additional 6,000 infantry, armor and field artillery positions before accepting female applicants into reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting and acquisition battalions.

The Army is planning to develop gender-neutral standards to ensure all soldiers have fair access to jobs.

Beginning in July 2014, the Army will open military occupational specialties within its engineer branch then follow up with positions in its field artillery, armor and infantry branches.

The changes will lead to more than 116,800 new opportunities for women in the Army.

The service said it is developing body armor, flight suits and physical training uniforms for women.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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