Linda Mullenix, a quality assurance inspector, measures Staff Sgt. Shakeisha Cheeks of Headquarters Company, Brigade Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, at the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion Headquarters on Kelley Hill at Fort Benning, Ga. (Sgt. Ben Hutto / Army)
After three years of design and evaluation, the form-fitting Army Combat Uniform-Alternate — specifically designed for female soldiers — is available at local clothing stores.
The effort was led by Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center at Natick, Mass. The team came up with more than a dozen changes to styles and sizes designed to provide a better-fitting uniform for thousands of soldiers. Roughly one in every six soldiers is women.
Some adjustments were made to provide a better fit while others looked to ease access into pockets and provide greater uniformity.
Here’s what you need to know:
1 Where you can get the ACU-A. The ACU-A was issued in female clothing bags in March. The uniform is now available at all Clothing Initial Issue Points except Fort Benning, Ga. The ACU-A can be purchased at Army Military Clothing Stores at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Fort Lee and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. Soldiers can also order it at other AMCS locations.
2 This is a soldier-driven solution. Development of the ACU-A was driven largely by women in the rank and file, who complained about the ACU’s fit. Many were left to buy larger sizes to accommodate their varying attributes, which left them looking like a walking tent. Women said the ACU shoulders were too wide, the torso too long and the hips of the trousers too narrow, officials said. The Army designed a solution and kicked off wear tests in 2011.
3 It is coming out of the gate strong. The ACU-A was put to the test by 400 active-duty and 200 National Guard and Reserve female soldiers in and out of the combat theater. When compared to the standard ACU, 86 percent said the coat fit better and 71 percent said the trousers fit better, Maj. Laverne Stanley, assistant product manager with Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment said in a written response. “Additionally, an overwhelming majority [94 percent] of all respondents said that the cut of the new ACU-A allowed them to present a better military appearance.”
4 Changes you can expect to see. The ACU-A comes in 16 coat and trouser sizes. By comparison, the standard ACU comes in 37 coat sizes and 36 trouser sizes. But the ACU-A has varying chest, waist, hip and sweep measurements. For example, the trouser’s “back rise” is lengthened to make room for larger hips and posteriors. The jacket length, as well as the sleeves' width and length, are also adjusted. Such changes will reduce binding and chafing, increase mobility and improve military appearance, officials said.
5 Don’t call them “female ACUs.” The ACU-A has obvious female features. For example, the rank tab was moved upward so it no longer sets in the middle of the chest. And the area behind the shoulders is sewn differently to keep the jacket from falling forward when the solider bends down. But the uniform is not restricted to females. Any soldier can wear the new duds if she — or he — finds it provides a better fit than the standard ACU, officials said. This could be particularly beneficial to smaller-statured soldiers.