Female aviation personnel uniforms more fitting
Project engineer Tammy Chiang (left) fits Sgt. Kayleigh May, a team leader with Company D, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, to determine the correct fit for the new Flame-Retardant Environment Ensemble. Until now, flight suits were one-size-fits-all. The Army aviation combat uniform is the latest change the Army has made to accommodate female aviation personnel better, allowing for more freedom of movement and in turn providing an overall better Soldier. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jennifer Andersson, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs/RELEASED)

"You've come a long way, baby," was the 1970 slogan for a product targeted at women. It also set the tone for the feminist movement, which would affect the entire workforce, especially the U.S. military.

The fact is women have served in military roles, though unrecognized, since this country's founding.

Women have been at the forefront of the urban, counter-insurgency battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, changing the traditional roles of centuries ago. That women can only be attached to combat units but not assigned to them makes little sense in wars where there are no more formal battlefields.

"It is a new concept to have women in fighting roles, and it's the women who are requesting it," said Dan Peterson, the curator of the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Ky. "It stems from the concept of total war, in which warfare is being inflicted on the entire population instead of merely combatant against combatant."

"Just because of the old 'male' philosophy, a moral creed, if you will, men did the fighting and defending the home," he said. "This has been in the human psyche since biblical days."

During the Revolutionary war, many countries had women called "camp followers." They had roles such as maintaining uniforms, cooking food, things which in later armies became military specialties within the army.

"Because they were unofficial, they were put in bad straights," Peterson said. "If the units had to move quickly, sometimes they were left behind and were left to their own devices."

By the Civil War, women unofficially served as nurses. By World War I, with the establishment of the Red Cross, women were uniformed, active members of the Red Cross, but not of the Army.

"With the establishment of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, nurses were commissioned officers and employed in the hospitals behind the lines, which avoided death and capture," Peterson said.

The first line of the WAAC physical training manual read, "Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over." More than 150,000 eventual served in the WAAC, which dropped the "auxiliary" designation in 1943, due to its obvious impact on the mission.

"Frontline units, such as 101st Airborne Division, did not have female medical personnel," Peterson said. "At the end of WWII, two WAC officers were assigned to the division in Germany for administrative duties, and other WACs held support roles."

After the Vietnam War, the draft was eradicated and the WAC branch was disbanded in 1978.

"With the adoption of the all-volunteer Army, more positions became open to female Soldiers, though still in support roles rather than combat roles," Peterson said.

With each passing decade, women have seen more and more equality within the U.S. military.

Master Sgt. Grace Wood, the support operations NCOIC for 563rd Aviation Support Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, joined the Army in 1994 and worked her way up through the ranks. She said, even after years of so-called equality, people sometimes question her about how quickly she moved up the ranks.

"I think a lot of males assume that to fast-track, you have to be doing something (less than virtuous) as a female," she said. "Once people meet me and work with me, they see I do work and strive to do the best I can at whatever I'm doing!"

Wood wrote a speech entitled, "A Mermaid in the shark tank," which describes the female Soldiers' battle within the Army.

Among the changes that have developed, the Army has improved the design of body armor and uniforms to fit the female figure, which varies greatly from that of a male, yet for years it was a one-size-fits-all.

"I knew women had different sizes on their regular (Army combat uniforms) and other clothing," said Cpt. Craig Kormannshaus, the 159th CAB plans officer. "But I was surprised to find out that the flight suits our females wear are sized only for males."

"The new design of the Army aviation combat uniform takes into consideration that women have curves," said Sgt. Kayleigh May, a team leader with Company D, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. "The elastic in the waist helps make up for the difference between hip and waist measurement."

The Army has definitely made accommodations for its female Soldiers, but they aren't alone. Even the profile of the military spouse has changed because there are more dependent husbands now than ever before.

In fact, according to a 2012 article on www.dodlive.mil, MANning the Homefront, is "a group geared specifically toward male military spouses." Groups like this provide camaraderie for male military spouses.

While the face of the Army Warrior has changed, the heart remains the same. Male or female, the Soldier is sworn to protect and defend this country and its people.

Page last updated Wed March 20th, 2013 at 14:05