Since 1918, when Pvt. Opha Mae Johnson officially became the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve, females have proudly answered the call to serve in the United States Marine Corps. From Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter's appointment as the first Director of Women Marine Reservists in 1943 to Colonel Katherine A. Towle's appointment as the first Director of Women Marines in 1948, the roles of females have continued to evolve and expand. Today, females serve in 93 percent of all occupational fields and 62 percent of all billets. Women constitute 6.2 percent of the Corps end strength and are an integral part of the Marine Corps. In February 2004, Marine Corps will celebrate the 61st anniversary of females in the Corps.
One female maintaining the standards set by the original women Marines is Major Renee' A. Holmes, Progam Manager, Infantry Combat Equipment (ICE) Clothing Team Leader. Holmes, who heads a team of clothing designers, logisticians, and project analysts, realizes the impact her team has on female Marines.
"We have a very dedicated group of people who recognize the importance of equipping every Marine with the necessary items to ensure the successful completion of their mission", says Holmes. "We take pride in the recent functional product improvements that enhance the ability of female Marines in their day to day operations."
One of those functional product improvements referenced by Holmes is the digital camouflage utility.
The digital camouflage utility development began in 2000 after Marine Corps focus group feedback identified desired improvements in the USMC uniform. The original camouflage uniform (cammies) accommodated females, but left much to be desired in the areas of fit, comfort, and appearance. This was largely due to the design of camouflage utilities to male proportions.
After the design, acceptability and production of the new cammies stabilized in 2002, MARCORSYSCOM initiated development of female specific sizes to address the majority of the female issues. The female specific sizes held an objective to eliminate the need for many female Marines to upsize the blouse and/or trouser to gain the ease needed in a particular area while rendering the garment too big everywhere else.
Beginning summer of 2004, female Marines needing a new uniform will have a choice of keeping the current uniform sizes or trying one of 5 new sized blouse and trouser combinations. Female Marines will also have another option, a mix and match of old and new depending on the fit of the uniform.
Recently, several female Marines had the opportunity to see and feel what the improvements and benefits to the female cammies were.
"The new cammies fit the female body very well. The trousers do not fall off the waist as well as the blouse does not look so huge on the females now," said LCpl Jessica Kirkus, MATSG - 21 NATC NAS Pensacola, FL.
Kirkus, along with over 40 other female Marines, participated in a fit test of the new female-specific sized cammies. Several of the Marines had an opportunity to wear the improved uniforms in their day-to-day activities for a minimum of 30 days. The effect of the new female uniforms versus the current uniforms was instantly recognized.
"To be perfectly honest, I could not get the size I needed in the sizes available now, so my digital cammies are very big on me, said LCpl Mary A. Simmons, Quantico, VA. "I look like a kid in cammies and with the eval cammies, I look like a Marine not a kid playing dress up."
Specific changes in the female cammies include raising the fixed waist indentation and widening the circumference at the bottom of the blouse to fall over the hips without gapping at the center front, shortening the shoulder length and fullness in the neckline while maintaining existing chest circumference, raising and reducing the waistline while increasing the hip circumference, and lengthening the inseam of the trousers.
Improvements for female cammies also extend to the maternity wear as well. In April 2003, the new maternity utility became available after verifying the improvements during a fall 2002 user test.
"The new uniform duplicates the design features and appearance of the combat utilities, including the easy care permanent press treatment, and [we have] resized the blouse and trouser for fit and comfort," says Dee Townes, maternity uniform Project Officer.
Townes went on to name additional maternity uniform improvements to include the removal of excess fullness and side pleats from the maternity blouse and improved trouser fits like the Service "C" maternity trousers with a comfortable waistband and maternity panel. With a new "lettered" size labeling females desired, females need to carefully look at the size predicator measurements (before pregnancy) inside the garment to choose the correct size.
Program Manager, LtCol Gabe Patricio, is pleased that his team is such an integral part in the supply of quality uniform items and accessories to female Marines.
"I'm very proud of the work that PM ICE has done and the work that we continue to do. We are an organization committed to providing Marines what they need to succeed in combat."
PM ICE is a under the umbrella of Combat Equipment & Support Systems, Product Group 16, Marine Corps Systems Command. Mr. Jim Riordan is Product Group Director.
This article includes contributions from the Women Marines Association and Ms. Dee Townes, Natick, MA.