Soldiers nix combat bra but want army to pay for ones they buy: survey
Updated: Wed, Jul 05 08:20 PM EDT
OTTAWA (CP) - There's just not enough support for a combat bra. Results of a Defence Department survey obtained by The Canadian Press say women soldiers don't want army-issue lingerie but they do want to be reimbursed for the bras they buy. "There's such a range of size and shape of women," Maj. Linda Bossi, an ergonomist in charge of the 12-page survey mailed out in February, said Wednesday.
"They didn't believe we'd satisfy enough women with one design."
The Canadian Forces will pay for four bras a year for soldiers, plus four more when they go overseas on six-month missions, said Maj. Doug Palmer, program director for Clothe the Soldier, a $184-million project to update clothing and gear used by Canada's troops.
"I think other countries will follow our lead."
About 1,250 military women answered numerous questions, chiefly whether they wanted the army to provide the world's first combat bra.
Among the findings:
- 92 per cent said more than one bra design would be required.
- 80 per cent indicated commercial bras were fine.
- 55 per cent said the army should pay.
- 8 per cent wanted a distinctly military design.
- 12 per cent said they appreciated being consulted.
- 27 per cent were critical of the survey, saying army bras aren't a priority.
Some soldiers said the army should be focusing on head gear, ballistic protection to stop bullet fragments and other products - not bras.
"It's a subject that, for some, has been embarrassing," said Palmer. "It is a subject that is littered with minefields."
Certainly it's caused a lot of teasing in the military, said Bossi, who wasn't surprised by the survey results.
"I thought it would be quite a challenge to design a bra that would satisfy 80 to 90 per cent of the population and I wouldn't have wanted to be responsible for that."
Donna Macaulay, a master warrant officer, is pleased with the outcome.
"If the army is willing to foot the bill for bras, I think that's excellent. It's a real step forward."
Bras weren't originally part of Clothe the Soldier, a program that is using a lot of input from troops to upgrade 24 pieces of clothing and gear, most designed decades ago before new fabrics and design techniques.
The bra idea was kicked around at a meeting of the army dress committee and the survey was developed to get feedback.
Another massive survey two years ago collected at least 150 different body measurements of Canada's land forces - like height, weight, foot size, finger length and distance between eyeballs.
Some products, like new light-weight thermal underwear and cold weather gloves, are on their way to troops. Others will take longer to design and deliver.
The military is developing gloves, for instance, that won't get in the way of the precise movements required to fire artillery or use communications gear.
Some soldiers aren't wearing gloves at all now, even in -10 C weather, in case they get jammed in an artillery launch tube.
New rucksacks and combat boots will reduce physical stress and fatigue.
All NATO countries are faced with better equipping their troops, said Palmer, though many don't involve the soldiers as much as Canada.
The products go through months of testing in the field.
And despite the fact the combat bra won't be one of them, Palmer said the survey details will be used to advise new recruits on what they should be looking for in a bra.
"You shouldn't dictate," he said. "We're simply going to provide educated advice."
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Here are some facts about the Clothe the Soldier program:
Objective: Update military clothing and gear designed before advent of high-tech fabrics and design techniques.
Method: Troop interviews and surveys identified 24 deficient items, including boots, gloves, sunglasses, underwear, helmets and rucksacks.
Design: Teams of experts redesigned each item. Private companies manufacture. Prototypes go to soldiers for months of testing.
Cost: $184 million to re-equip 50,000 troops - 20,000 regular army, 18,000 reserves and 12,000 support operations.
Status: Five items being delivered to soldiers, six to 10 will be ready in the next year; the rest will be designed by 2002.
Example: Prototype rucksack believed to surpass any load-carrying equipment now available. Specially designed mannequins were used to identify pressure points. Weight distributed squarely on hips, not shoulders.
Gender Issues: Most items are unisex, like boxer shorts. A $15,000 survey of women in combat roles found they don't want an army-issue bra; army will pay for four bras a year.
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