Did you see the recent Military Times article that’s been making waves and resonating with those of us who’ve been part of the Special Operations Forces (SOF) family? If not, as a female Army SOF (ARSOF) Veteran, I urge you delve in. Check it out here. The article highlights a glaring issue: the lack of properly fitting and suitable body armor and equipment for female soldiers. Strap in, because despite the challenges they face, we’re going to explore the unwavering determination and unbreakable bonds that define the women in our elite ranks.
Before diving into my thoughts, let me provide a bit of background. I served in ARSOF as a member of Cultural Support Teams (CSTs). For those who aren’t familiar with the roles CSTs played during operations primarily in the Middle East, let me break it down. CSTs were made up of women warriors who embedded with special ops teams to provide cultural insights, gender intelligence, and assistance on direct action missions in environments where traditional male-lead teams would encounter cultural barriers. We operated as soldiers, diplomats, and bridge-builders rolled into one. The integration of women into SOF units has been an evolutionary process—one that’s been met with a mixture of progress and obstacles. In recent years, we’ve witnessed unprecedented changes as women have taken on roles that were once considered exclusive to men. While these changes demonstrate marked progress, there is still much work to be done to address the unique needs of women in this demanding field.
I’ve been in their boots, navigating a male-dominated world where uniform sizes, protective gear, and equipment weren’t designed to meet the diverse needs of women. This isn’t solely an ARSOF issue, but women serving in all branches of the military, and even first responders face the same challenges. ARSOF has taken some positive, practical steps to help female soldiers overcome lack of access to proper gear. For instance, in my unit, I was provided with an allowance for gear reimbursement. While not an ARSOF-wide practice, this was a step in the right direction. However, despite ARSOF’s efforts, the supply chain for female combat-related equipment is sorely lacking. Just a few years ago, if a female soldier wanted to purchase gear to properly fit her frame, she either had to find a rare female specific vendor, or special order it. With women now comprising more than 17% of the active-duty force and 21% of the National Guard, it is more important than ever for the military at-large to prioritize the design and production of female-specific gear.
I felt a mixture of pride, frustration, and determination while being reminded these seemingly easily solvable issues continue to persist. Pride, because these women continue to take matters into their own hands, refusing to let obstacles deter them from their mission. Frustration, because it’s 2023, and we’re still talking about women in SOF having to buy their own protective gear and equipment. And finally, determination, because it’s our collective responsibility to ensure that future women SOF warriors have the tools they need to excel. This isn’t just about armor; it’s about breaking down barriers that undermine the strength and capabilities of our female warriors.
Imagine being a woman committed to serving this nation at the highest level of military excellence, only to find that your gear doesn’t even properly fit. But these women haven’t succumbed to frustration. Instead, together, they are sending a message that they belong, they’re resilient, and they’re not willing to settle for the status quo. They’ve shown incredible resilience by sourcing their own armor and equipment – armor that fits, armor that provides protection, and equipment that doesn’t diminish their performance. They continue to demonstrate the true essence of a warrior spirit: adapting, overcoming, and never giving up. These women are a stark reminder that meaningful progress is often slow, but we must keep pushing for positive change.
My purpose is to highlight the resilience of my SOF sisters, but let’s not overlook the systemic issues that this situation underscores. It’s high time for changes at every level – from procurement and supply chain, to policy and leadership. We’ve made significant strides, yes, but we can’t stop until our female warriors have access to gear and equipment that not only fits, but is designed with their unique needs in mind. Inclusivity isn’t the only goal: this is about operational effectiveness and success. To those who might question the need for tailored equipment, let me remind you that in high-stakes operations, the tiniest detail can make all the difference. Ill-fitting armor isn’t just uncomfortable; it can hinder mobility, slow reaction times, and put lives at risk.
During my time in SOF, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the impact women make down range in critical moments, the courage they exhibit, and the strengths they bring to the table. It was not just about their physical abilities—but the unique perspectives and skills they contributed to the mission. Our success as a team was built on diversity and inclusivity. This must always be so.
As we move forward, let’s celebrate the women who refuse to be held back by outdated norms. Let’s also recognize that it’s up to all of us to ensure that future generations of female warriors don’t have to face the same challenges. From veteran voices to policymakers, each of us has a role to play in breaking down the barriers and ensuring that our military stands as a beacon of equality and strength. We, your female operators, need you to support us! You can do just that by supporting SOAA and this movement. I also encourage you to share this article with your community to increase awareness.
So, here’s to the women who buy their own armor, who carry the weight of tradition while forging a new path, and who inspire us all to demand better. It’s an honor to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, my sisters. And mark my words, your strength and determination will rewrite history and pave the way for a more inclusive and formidable future for the US Military.
Keep charging forward!