The Army makes its first uniform tactical bra. The vets say it’s overdue.

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When Sarah Hoyt arrived at Fort Jackson, SC, for basic training in 2002, the military confiscated all of her personal belongings. This included sports bras she had packed for the 10 weeks of intense physical activity that stretched ahead of her, she said.

If she wanted new ones, she had to go to a docking station, which only sold one brand and one style, said Hoyt, now 41 and an army veteran living in the Camp Humphreys, South Korea.

“If racerbacks were uncomfortable for you, so be it. If you needed more support, so be it. If the store was out of your size, so be it,” she said.

So, during the early days of the training program, Hoyt overcame the discomfort of undersized bras as she went through sit-ups, push-ups and two-mile runs. “I was very uncomfortable, to put it mildly,” she said. “They did a good job of putting the girls down, but it was so tight.”

Now, 20 years later, the Army is set to offer its first official uniform bra in an effort to meet challenges like those faced by Hoyt., as well as equipping female soldiers with better options for combat and training.

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“The overall goal is to produce garments that not only protect the wearer, but also reduce the female soldier’s cognitive burden caused by discomfort and poor fit,” said Ashley Cushon, apparel designer and head of project, to Army AL&T magazine. “Achieving this will improve the soldier’s overall readiness and performance levels, allowing them to focus on their mission.”

Four prototypes of the bra, known as the Army Tactical Brassiere (ATB), are being developed at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center in Natick, Mass., and final concepts will be presented to the Army Uniform Board for approval in the fall. The designs all offer FR protection and vary in other features, which include pullover and front closure styles, structured and contoured seams, adjustable straps, padded cups, mesh ventilation and pocket inside for dog tag.

“If the ATB becomes an official registration program as a result of the upcoming Army Uniform Commission, we will see this as a victory for female soldiers in the Army, who would then likely receive the ATB during their initial entry into the military,” David Accetta, a Devcom Soldier Center public affairs officer, wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

The project joins a wave of recent efforts to recognize military diversity and improve uniform standards for women, who made up 16.5 percent of enlisted forces in 2018. Last year, the Army and Air Force released new rules that allow more flexibility for service members who wear locs, twists, braids and ponytails. And last month, the Navy measured hundreds of sailors in Norfolk, Va., in its ongoing effort to create better-fitting uniforms for female personnel.

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Madelynn Conner, a 24-year-old intelligence officer stationed in Vicenza, Italy, said she and her colleagues appreciate the military’s latest move. “We are very grateful that the military is moving in this direction and being more accommodating to its female soldiers, who bring so much to the fight,” she said. “I personally hope to see similar developments for things like the frame of our rucks, allowing them to fit more appropriately to our bodies.”

On social media, veterans also expressed their enthusiasm.

“I needed it in 1997 in basic training,” one user commented on Facebook. “Glad the military is finally taking a woman’s needs seriously.”

Others criticized this decision.

“I can think of a million better ways for the military to spend this time, money and energy,” one user said. tweeted. “Who asked for this.”

According to Accetta, hundreds of female soldiers were interviewed to provide insight into the type of functionality and preferences the Devcom Soldier Center design, model, and prototype team should consider during initial design.

Early in the process, the team also hired Jené Luciani-Sena, author of “The Bra Book”, to offer consultation on what makes a good bra.

Based on publicly released images of the four Devcom Soldier Center concepts, “it looks like they’re on the right track,” Luciani-Sena said, adding that the military is focusing on developing support first. functional throats. “However, I know from my conversations with them that they want women to feel good about them too, and they are aware of that.”

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Although she was initially excited about the development of bras, Hoyt admits she was concerned the military had made significant progress in size inclusiveness – largely due to her own experiences. with “army bras” in the past.

In 2004, she received three sports bras for her deployment to Iraq. Sizes were only available in small, medium, large and extra large, Hoyt said.

Now she fears the ATB will use similarly restrictive measures. “Trying to fit women’s body parts into such rigid size categories is failing,” she said. Devcom Soldier Center didn’t immediately have information on what size ranges the bra will offer, but the team reviewed data gathered from a 2012 Army anthropometric survey, which “provided important data on the relative size of our soldiers,” Accetta said.

“There are certainly some unique issues that we face when it comes to bras,” said Connor, the officer in Italy. “Things we would like to see in a good tactical bra include breathability – since we spend a lot of time in the field and often go weeks without a shower – good support without suffocation… and bras that don’t cut us not skin or cause irritation and blisters.

Devcom’s initial findings on ATB performance among more than 200 participants show acceptability rates of 46-78%. The highest ranked attributes were coverage and support. Meanwhile, comfort was listed as the lowest.

Luciani-Sena emphasizes that there is no one size fits all when it comes to making the perfect bra.

“I can tell you what I think is good from an expert point of view,” Sena said. “But it’s going to be so personal to you – what you like and what you feel is good for you.”

For Hoyt, these are pull-on bras with crossover straps. And “the absolute best are the ones with the front crossover for extra support,” she added.

Looking back on her time in basic training, Hoyt recalls the gratitude she felt when her mom mailed her comfortable sports bras to wear for the rest of the program.

“I tore the package in front of the whole peloton and the two [of my] male drill sergeants,” Hoyt said. “I was so happy.”

Now she hopes others can find the same relief: “We know what we like and what works best for our unique bodies.”

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