The 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division soldiers at Fort Campbell, KY will be testing out a new prototype for a more woman-friendly protective vest. To date, 14 percent of active duty troops are female, according to Stars and Stripes, but they have been using body armor designed specifically for men.
The current vests are often too long in the torso for many women and leave a dangerous exposed gap under their arms. Furthermore, the pressure from chest plates pushing against women’s breasts and the vests’ design around their hips can be a huge discomfort, especially when seated.
The new chest plate is located in an outside pocket, which Lt. Col. Frank Lozano says provides a more comfortable fit, while still protecting vital organs. Lozano works with Program Executive Office Soldier, the Army agency, which, along with Natick Soldier Systems Center, develops and tests new Army equipment. “I think the hardest part was figuring out how to dart the vest in the bust area and adjust the cut of the shoulder area that provided coverage and also allowed for movement,” Lozano says.
Capt. Lindsey Pawlowski, who has used the old body armor in two separate deployments, is positive about the new vest. “I can sit down in it,” she said. “I can run in it easier.”
Pawlowski is one of nineteen female soldiers testing the vests, who will be on the brigade’s Female Engagement Team. After they deploy in November, they will work to improve interactions with Afghan women.
As of right now, the vests are available only to the 101st soldiers. After testing, they will provide feedback, and the vests will go into final design review. If the vests prove to be effective and cost efficient, 3,000 vests will be manufactured, according to Lozano.
“We’ve been given guidance to make this happen,” Lozano said. “We’re moving as quickly as we can.”