ARLINGTON, Va. (Aug. 13, 2018)—Women are better and more capable Soldiers when they are given equipment developed specifically for female needs.
That was the message of Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, product manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment of the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier, at the Defense Advisory Committee on Women Services’ (DACOWITS) quarterly business meeting on June 19.
DACOWITS is a committee composed of civilian women and men appointed by the secretary of defense to provide advice and recommendations on matters relating to female armed services professionals.
During a panel discussion, Whitehead explained how the new Soldier Protection System, known as SPS, was designed with women in mind. The SPS, which is the Army’s next generation of personal protective equipment (PPE), includes a helmet with a face shield, a unisex mandible and a new retention strap mechanism.
Previous versions of the SPS employed an X-formation retention strap mechanism that was uncomfortable for female Soldiers with a hair bun. The new system uses an H-back that fits around the bun, allowing for greater comfort.
Body armor has become more female friendly in recent years, but Whitehead stated that improvements also have been made to the protective undergarment, blast pelvic protector, load distribution system and ballistic combat shirt.
She also stressed the importance of decreasing weight in wearable equipment. “Mobility equals survivability,” she said, “and if you’re mobile and have greater range of motion you can move faster when you need to, and that’s the approach we’ve taken with body armor—driving the weight down.”
In order to help determine the effectiveness of new PPE, female Soldiers participated in ground Soldier platoons and squads to gain valuable assessments of equipment performance in tactical scenarios and operational environments such as individual movement tactics, urban operations, live-fire range and marksmanship comparisons and obstacle course maneuvers. Whitehead stated that the changes in PPE came about because of user feedback from these exercises.
“Every time we have a new piece of equipment it always goes out for user evaluation, and it’s that user evaluation that is critical to implementing changes to have better form, fit and function,” she said.
In addition, she spoke about the methods used to leverage new and changing technology to improve PPE for women, which included incorporating the appropriate demographic of the Army in all developmental and operational tests, adjusting for human factors and user evaluations, maintaining close ties with combat developers while adjusting requirements as needed, and sharing data and lessons learned with other services and partner nations.
“We’re heading in an exciting direction, especially now with new futures brigades standing up and these cross-multilethality teams, who are starting to have a lot of say in how we do body armor,” Whitehead said. “I see them as part of the driving force in helping represent the user community in where we put our developmental efforts for future equipment, integration and use.”
After the panel discussion Whitehead showed a few prototypes to committee members to show how the new design feels and fits on female Soldiers.
Whitehead also participated in a women’s history month event hosted May 20 by Women in Defense-Greater Boston Chapter in Westford, Massachusetts, where she highlighted the benefits of female-specific body armor.
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