Female Combat Veteran, Senator Ernst, Pushes for Proper-Fitting Body Armor, Protective Equipment for Female Servicemembers

Ernst, the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate, put forward a bipartisan measure to correct issues of inadequate and ill-fitting equipment and ensure troop readiness and effectiveness

WASHINGTON—After working closely with soldiers and commanders of the U.S. service branches—including meetings in Kuwait and Afghanistan with U.S. troops and military leaders just last week—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate, is putting forward a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to ensure body armor and personal protective equipment (PPE) is adequate, properly-fitted, and readily available for female servicemembers.

“Women continue to make strides in serving in critical roles within our nation’s military. As a woman who served in combat and commanded troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and with my own daughter who is going through training right now at West Point, I understand just how important it is for all servicemembers to be properly equipped for the battlefield,” said Senator Ernst, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. “Right now, female servicemembers are facing injuries due to ill-fitting equipment. We must do better for our military men and women. This commonsense, bipartisan proposal is a step toward ensuring adequate and proper-fitting equipment is readily available to our female servicemembers to ensure their readiness, survivability, and effectiveness in combat.”

Background:

Recent reports by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) have shown that access to female-specific PPE and smaller sized PPE was severely limited and only issued to some women who were deploying and not to any females during initial entry training (IET) or in regular unit environments. In addition, their research has shown that poorly-fitting PPE is a leading cause of injury for all servicemembers, those who are deployed and in training. While the service branches have been working to make improvements to achieve the proper protection and fit for PPE for all servicemembers, including females and small statured males, there is still work to be done to ensure all military members are adequately equipped both during training and in combat.

Senator Ernst’s bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would: 

  • Encourage the Services to expedite the contracting, procuring, and fielding of new generation PPE that better fits and protects all servicemembers, to include females, and reduces preventable injuries. 
  • Encourage collaboration with academia and industry, utilizing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, human factors modeling, and digital predictive human modeling to develop the next generation of combat equipment and PPE.
  • Require the Services to submit a report to Congress in the 2021 Fiscal Year concerning any barriers that they have encountered when fielding their newest versions of PPE to servicemembers. The report would include any cost overruns or contractor delays in fielding this new equipment to servicemembers.
  • Require the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to begin administering a trackable system for data input related to injuries to accompany the issuance of new PPE. This could be done through an already-existing system such as the Defense Occupational And Environmental Health Readiness System (DOEHRS).
  • Require DHA to provide a report to Congress in the 2025 Fiscal Year identifying the prevalence of preventable injuries attributed to ill-fitting or malfunctioning PPE.
  • Require the DoD to include questions in the annual Periodic Health Assessment (PHA) on the nature and prevalence of injuries attributed to ill-fitting or malfunctioning PPE.

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