Women have been serving in the Air Force Security Forces since 1976, but it’s taken 45 years for the service to finally provide them with body armor that actually fits. At long last, female airmen with the 377th Security Forces Group at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico have become one of the first to get fitted with protective vests designed for them.
Unlike the old armor, which was designed to fit the average male body, the new variant is lighter, has a curved chest plate, a shorter torso size, and an adjustable back corset that tightens to fit the wearer, according to a press release published on Tuesday. The adjustable corset helps the new armor avoid the old version’s problem of being ‘one size fits all,’ which clearly did not fit all, the release explained.
“Our previous gear did not allow for much freedom of movement,” said Master Sgt. Brianne N. Trapani, the superintendent for the 377th Security Support Squadron, which received the armor in January. “So if we were in a situation that required us to run or quickly exit a vehicle, it hindered us greatly. It also put us at risk by wearing gear that was not properly fitted to protect us.”
Despite the obvious safety risks of the old gear, it took the military nearly ten years of empty promises to actually deliver body armor for women. In that time, women wearing ill-fitted body armor all day were also at risk for developing stress fractures, Army veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill told Task & Purpose in October. Duckworth cosponsored a provision of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act which could finally get properly-fitted body armor out to women across the military.
“Body armor is designed to work flush against the skin, and if that’s not happening because women’s bodies are shaped differently, it could potentially not function as well,” Army veteran Kayla Williams told Task & Purpose in October.
It’s not just women who are affected by ill-fitting body armor. Williams said that her husband, who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall, also ran into problems because of ill-fitting gear.
“You need to be able to rotate your arm to throw a grenade, or something like that,” Williams said. “It really matters that we get this solved.”
Now the Air Force is finally working to solve it, and airmen at the 377th are all for it.
“The first thing that came to mind was excitement,” said Senior Airman Kiah C. Cook, who was one of the first at Kirtland to receive the new armor. “This is a historic moment. It shows us that the military is starting to appreciate us females more, especially as cops, and getting us gear that is specifically for us.”
Other units who received the new armor are the 90th Security Forces Squadron at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. and the 39th Security Forces Squadron at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The units received theirs on Dec. 11 and Jan. 12, respectively. The hype was real there, too.
“Firing from a prone position is difficult with improper fitting gear and being able to find that sweet spot for the butt of your weapon to sit is oftentimes difficult,” said Master Sgt. Alana Lynn, of the 90th Security Forces Squadron. “However, new body armor designed for women will increase our lethality and allow for a more comfortable and controlled shot.”
The new vests come a month after the Air Force announced changes to its hair standards that allow female airmen to wear their hair longer than before, thereby loosening constraints that many airmen said had resulted in migraines, hair damage, and hair loss.
The new standards allow Air Force and Space Force women to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail with bulk not exceeding the width of the head and length not extending below a horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the underarm through the shoulder blades, according to a press release. In addition, women’s bangs may now touch their eyebrows, but not cover their eyes.
“I have irreversible hair loss from pulling my hair so tight,” wrote one person responding to the news on Facebook. “I cut it all off years ago in an effort to prevent spreading. I wish the military would cover hair transplants to correct this…extremely insecure and self-conscious about it.”
Hip hip hooray to the Air Force for trying to make day-to-day service not literally painful for 21% of its members.
“This is an exciting time filled with progress and changes in the right direction for many initiatives within the military,” said Trapani. “I am happy to see some antiquated issues finally being addressed and resolved.”
Featured image: Air Force Senior Airman Kiah C. Cook, 377th Security Forces Group defender, poses in the new female body armor on Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Feb. 4, 2021 (Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Ireland Summers)