Lore has it that the Amazons, the all-female warriors of ancient myth, would slice off their left breasts to make it easier to shoot arrows and hurl spears. The U.S. military is hoping their female fighters won't have to do the same, as pressure mounts to admit women into combat roles. Military engineers are currently designing "Xena: Warrior Princess"-style body armor for women, reports The Christian Science Monitor: protective clothing better suited to the curves, chest and hips of the female form.
Women are technically banned from front-line roles, and can only be "attached" to infantry units, and not "assigned" to them. But being a mechanic or driver in Iraq's Sunni Triangle or the deserts of Afghanistan is pretty close to combat, particularly if you lose your limbs, or life, in a blast.
"It rubbed on the hips, and the vests were too long in the front," Lt. Col. Frank Lozana, who is helping to develop the new uniforms, told The Monitor, and this caused female soldiers some discomfort. One study said ill-fitting female armor hurt the military's ability to do its job.
The different physical requirements of men and women might seem obvious: different shoulder widths; different torso lengths; hips; waists; breasts. One hundred women of the 101st Airborne Division are currently testing out eight sizes of armor specifically made for the female body, and have given them positive reviews.
They may be more form-fitting than male armor was, but don't expect the kind of sexed-up body plates popular in video games like "World of Warcraft." Cleavage and bared torsos aren't the safest way to battle the enemy.
Women make up 16 percent of the military right now, a number that continues to rise, along with the call to ease restrictions on female fighters.
Last year, congress's Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that women be allowed to fight in combat roles. In February, military officials rejected the advice, instead opting to open up 14,000 jobs previously closed to female soldiers, to see how that worked out. Almost 250,000 jobs would remain strictly male-only.
In May, two female army reservists sued the Army and the U.S. Department of Defense, demanding that the military overturn what they see as a bigoted policy.
Defenders of the gender restriction say that women in combat roles create a whole host of problems, such as the threat of rape, the possibility that the enemy could torture a female soldier to get information out of a male one, or that the American people might be harder to rally for war when their daughters, along with their sons, would be put in the line of fire. The fact that the more curves an armor plate has, the more vulnerable and heavier it is, is another little kink, and army engineers are working on it.
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