Is the U.S. Army’s New Tactical Bra Ready for Deployment?
Last summer, with the momentousness of a gender-reveal party and the exuberance of a ticker-tape parade, the United States Army announced its first combat-ready bra to the world. They called it the Army Tactical Brassiere (a.k.a. the A.T.B.). Conceived four years ago, the garment is still being tinkered with, but one day it will be a wardrobe staple for all women in the Army. David Accetta, the chief public-affairs officer for the research division developing the undergarment, the devcom Soldier Center (“devcom” stands for U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command), told Army Times that, if the brassiere is officially approved by the Army Uniform Board, “we would see that as a win for female soldiers.” Ashley Cushon, the project engineer of the team working on the item, assured me that it would “reduce the cognitive burden on the wearer.” And a military Web site reported that the A.T.B. would improve “overall soldier performance and lethality.” Gadzooks! Yes, it’s flame-resistant, but what else can it do? Shoot bullets? Hypnotize the enemy? Turn its wearer invisible?
I decided that I needed to try on The Bra. Full disclosure: there is no undergarment in the world that would gird my loins enough to prepare me for combat. I shy away from quarrels; I am afraid of bear spray. Clothes and gear, however, are another story, and, surprisingly, we owe many of the things that we wear and use every day to the military: beanies, cargo pants, T-shirts, trenchcoats, and aviator glasses—and can we agree that sanitary napkins count as gear? Duct tape, Cheetos, and Silly Putty all have military origins.
At ten hundred hours, on a cold morning in March, I arrived at the seventy-eight-acre Soldier System Center, a military installation in Natick, Massachusetts, west of Boston, to meet The Bra. At the first of two security gates, I was greeted by Accetta. (Tip: If you can’t arrange for a vetted Trusted Traveler escort, as I did, you’ll need to bring two I.D.s. Your draft record or your Defense Biometric Identification will work.) Accetta and I trudged down Upper Entrance Lane, past yellow plastic crash barriers plastered with such aphorisms as “People First” and “Winning Matters,” until we reached Building 4, MacArthur Hall, C.C.D.C. (a.k.a. devcom) Soldier Center. (Accetta said, “I’m convinced there’s an acronym generator at D.O.D.”) Whoever names these organizations must get paid by the word.
The original purpose of devcom Soldier Center, which was founded as the Quartermaster Research Facility, in 1949, was to update equipment that had proved tragically inadequate during the Second World War. For instance, the tents. They might have fared fine if the war had taken place in Santa Barbara, California, in May, indoors. In the muggy South Pacific jungle, though, the fabric succumbed to mildew and disintegrated after two weeks. Soldiers wearing uninsulated boots when they invaded the Aleutian Islands sustained more injuries from trench foot and exposure than they did from enemy fire.