Soldiers sized up: Army survey for uniforms, armor
The president may be talking about downsizing the military, but the size of the average soldier is growing.
At the Camp Shelby training base near Hattiesburg, Miss., measuring sticks and high-tech body scans are being used on 1,000 servicemen and women.
Early findings show soldiers are larger and heavier than when the last survey was taken in 1988, an increase in keeping with that found in the general population, said project leader Cynthia Blackwell. It will take about two years to analyze all the data.
Measurements of more than 12,000 service personnel at posts across the U.S. will be used to develop size standards for uniforms and other equipment and to help determine how much to stock in each size. Men and women are measured in separate groups. All wear running shorts and tank tops brought by the measurement contractor to ensure consistency.
Officials realized a new survey was needed after more large-sized uniforms than expected were needed for troops deploying to Iraq, Blackwell said.
"We were having to dip into war reserves to try to cover those sizes," she said. The Army also had to quickly buy more supplies to cover those deployments, according to the website for its Natick Research Development and Engineering Center, which is conducting the $9.4 million study.
The Army also created new sizes, said Steven Paquette, anthropology team leader in Natick, Mass.
The team from Anthrotech Inc. of Yellow Springs, Ohio, is in Mississippi — its 12th stop — through April 6. It will finish at Army National Guard headquarters in Arlington, Va.
The Department of Defense says there are about 1.1 million men and women on active Army duty, in the reserves and in the National Guard.
President Barack Obama has called for streamlining the U.S. military by trimming the budget and the number of people on active duty, but those remaining in uniform have to be properly fitted for their missions.
A pilot survey of 3,400 soldiers, reservists and national guard members in 2007 found the active-duty men were about as tall as their 1988 counterparts, but averaged two inches more around the chest, waist and hips.
Which isn't to say they're fatter — it could be extra muscle on bulked-up soldiers, Blackwell said. "For us it's kind of a non-judgment thing. We don't care why it is. We just know that it is," she said.
Another pilot study found that National Guard troops tended to be the biggest and active duty soldiers the leanest, with reserves falling in between, Paquette said.
The Army has had a problem for some time with would-be recruits too fat to join up, but once they're in they have to stay in shape. The Defense Department spends $1.1 billion a year on medical care related to overweight and obese soldiers.
Staff Sgt. Jackquline Moore said she's looking forward to the practical results, "being as I'm a female and the uniforms made now are basically made for a male."
Actually, women's sizes in combat uniforms are being rolled out now, and the Army has been working for more than a year on new patterns for body armor, Paquette said.
"The goal of the military is usually to fit as many people in as few sizes as possible," Paquette said. "It's just a logistics and cost perspective. Some items, they've learned, you do need dedicated female sizes for."
The measuring team takes 94 measurements by hand — details such as shoulder width and the distance a soldier's leg needs to push a Humvee gas pedal. Bodies, heads and right feet get 3-D scans.
Uniform and equipment sizes aren't the study's only objective, Blackwell said. It will also be used to create avatars for computerized simulations, and to figure out how much space is needed for things like vehicles' cockpits and seats.
She said the new findings also will be used to ensure that "small," ''medium" and "large" mean the same thing for different pieces of equipment.
"You could end up having a medium uniform and large body armor, because they're designed separately," she said.
While one soldier sat and pushed her foot against a metal plate as if it were a gas pedal, another stood between two banks of two large cameras each for a 3-D body scan.
None of the soldiers could see each other — each measuring station is screened.
It's not the first time the Army has been measured, and nowhere near the biggest survey.
More than 1.2 million volunteers and 500,000 draftees were measured during the Civil War, and nearly 2 million draftees during World War II.
Benjamin Apthorp Gould needed four years and nearly 700 pages to summarize his findings about the 58 questions asked of Civil War volunteers, including some about eye color, hair color and baldness.