“Whenever I tried to move or tried to shoulder my weapon or shoot on a pop-up range really quickly, I would have to physically pick up the vest and move it in order to shoulder my weapon,” Pierre-Zamora said.
It’s a common complaint from female soldiers and small-stature men who have struggled with the bulky armor they’ve worn over two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in recent weeks, the Army for the first time has begun handing out armor in three additional sizes: extra small short, small short and small long. The armor can be adjusted in multiple ways to fit better and allow soldiers to move faster and more freely.
The “modular scalable vest” was distributed to more than 4,500 soldiers so far in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, over the past few weeks. Female soldiers also will be able to get new versions of the combat shirt more tailored for a woman’s shape. Those shirts are given out only when soldiers deploy.
Army researchers have been working on the changes for years, trying to come up with combat gear that is lighter and fits better.
Initially, the effort to add more sizes was in response to complaints from female soldiers, who are increasingly moving into combat jobs previously open only to men. As more women deployed to a war zone, they often found that they were shorter and smaller than many of the men and needed armor that allows for narrower shoulders, a bust and hips.
Early on, however, the Army made the decision to make the vests unisex, The decision, said Lt. Col. Stephen Miller, was based on the belief that smaller male soldiers who might need a short or small sized vest would refuse to take anything that was “stamped female.” He’s product manager for soldier protective equipment at PEO Soldier, an Army organization that coordinates the fielding of armor, weapons and other equipment.
That move has proved to be a success.
Nearly 25 percent or 1,200, of the 82nd Airborne soldiers so far have gotten armor in the three new sizes, said Pierre-Zamora, who works as an assistant product manager at PEO Soldier. Of those 1,200, about 100 have been women.
There are five other regular sizes that have been available previously — extra small, small, medium, large and extra large.
Akiro Protech produces a wide variety of raw materials - woven fabrics and unidirectional tape products - that are flexible and comfortable, and wearer friendly, especially for smaller body fits. Its range of products use very fine filaments of ultra high molecular weight polyethylene fibers or para aramid filament yarn, that give the wearer the comfortable feel, unlike the cumbersome and heavy body armor of yesteryears.