Facing a lawsuit regarding the military’s prohibition against female warriors — known as the combat exclusion rule — the Army has provided the plaintiffs with Exhibit Number One: In an acknowledgment that women are in fact fighting, the Army is testing combat uniforms designed specifically for women.
The inconsistency in what the Pentagon claims — that women can only be “attached” to combat units but not “assigned” to them — makes little sense in wars where there are no more formal battlefields. Women have been at the forefront of the urban, counter-insurgency battles marking the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; over 140 women have died in combat since 2001. Beyond simply denying reality, the exclusionary rules also deprive the hundreds of thousands of servicewomen from access to the training, promotions, and education that come with combat roles.
As the decision to test new uniforms for women shows, the Army is now well aware that a soldier who is properly outfitted is a more nimble and effective one. Among other refinements, the new uniforms will narrow shoulder width and shorten sleeve lengths. They will be designed with less fabric, so women don’t become encumbered by extra material around the legs.
While the new uniforms are essential, it is remarkable how long it has taken the Army to adapt to women in combat. Maybe Pentagon suppliers were in denial or just adhering to rules from above. But if the plaintiffs in the upcoming litigation — women who have fought, been injured, and won medals — need evidence to show that the military uses women in combat roles without giving them the recognition they deserve, the new uniforms are tailored to provide it.