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Military changing body armor to better fit women on the battlefield

Danny Rivera, a Program Manager Infantry Combat Equipment (PM ICE) Training Team East member who works out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., discusses body armor with Reserve Infantry Marines of 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, in Grand Rapids, Mich. (PM ICE photo/U.S. Marine Corps)

emale Marines and soldiers will soon have access to a redesigned helmet harness that allows them to more comfortably wear their hair in a bun.

The improvement is among many planned for women’s body armor outlined in a Marine Corps Systems Command presentation recently provided to Stars and Stripes.

Women had complained that the “X-Back” design of an apparatus holding chin straps interfered with hair buns, making it difficult for the helmet to fit securely.

Dubbed the “Army Improved Retention System,” the new harness is designed to be used with enhanced combat helmets.

The female-specific “H-Back” apparatus includes an opening for a bun, Army Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, project manager for Soldier Protective Equipment, recently told

This solution, along with improvements to retention straps to keep them from interfering with peripheral vision and cutting into earlobes, was “widely accepted by [the] female soldier community,” Whitehead said.

Gunnery Sgt. Carrie White, a military police officer at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, said improving the current helmet harness would be “good for female Marines.”

“In the past, I have either had to make my bun really low or have short hair to accommodate the [helmet]” said White, who has been in the Marine Corps for 16 years and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

Black women face additional challenges, said Capt. Viola Kelley, who is assigned to the Eighth Army at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.

“If you’re wearing braids, wigs or anything of that nature, your [helmet] is most likely not going to fit and sit on top of your head like a pop-top,” she said, adding that she’d rather not make drastic changes to hairstyles that fit within Army guidelines.

Armor plates and backpacks

Other body armor enhancements identified in the Marines’ report include smaller armor plates and an adjustable frame backpack to help female Marines shoulder heavy loads.

The new armor plates and carriers will come in three smaller sizes that are about 25 percent lighter, the report said. Plates will also have contoured shoulders to better accommodate a rifle stock and will be 1.5 inches shorter at the waist for better mobility.

“I have to lift up my body armor to bend over, so [shorter plates] sound good to me,” White said.

The new backpack will feature an updated shoulder harness and hip belt designed to fit over body armor. Multiple yoke sizes will allow wearers to modify the width of their shoulder straps to accommodate different body shapes.

The changes are being made in response to a 2016 policy that updated the “Fit Requirement” for equipment that benefits 8,856 Marines of smaller stature and 5,711 larger Marines, the presentation said.

The Marines also began an anthropometric survey this year that includes 3 full-body and head 3-D scans that will represent all Marines of both sexes. Anthropometry is the study of the measurement and proportions of the human body.

Data gathered will influence the design and sizing of future uniforms, equipment and vehicles, the presentation added.

Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Fichtl contributed to this report.


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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