Air Force expanding maternity uniform access for airmen

Pregnant women in the Air Force will have an easier time shopping for uniforms going forward due to a new initiative at Air Combat Command (ACC).

The Air Force’s Sword Athena program is partnering with the Army and the Air Force Exchanges to increase the availability of maternity uniforms in stores and sizing guides online. The change is due to expecting airmen having trouble finding the right size uniform to wear and being forced to find other, sometimes costly, ways to procure uniforms.

“A lot of big bases have large military clothing sales. It’s the smaller bases and those in remote locations where it’s particularly challenging to find these uniforms,” said Master Sgt. Aubrey Woodworth, a Sword Athena member, in an Air Force release. “Usually there is a network of ladies who find other ways to acquire these items, but it is hit or miss. If you’re the first Airmen in your unit who’s been pregnant in a while, it makes it even more challenging.”

Women in the past have had to buy multiple uniforms to see what fits and then mail the others back, requiring an expensive upfront cost.

As part of the program, the Air Force conducted an inventory review of maternity uniforms across ACC. That helped the command figure out which bases were in the most need.

The service also worked with Air Force Materiel command to expand the inventory at military clothing stores where at least 50 maternity uniforms were sold a year. Now all bases will have at least one size available for fitting.

Pregnancy and other gender issues are starting to gain more traction in the military. Pregnant women are in a tough spot because they will go through multiple sizes throughout their pregnancy. Other issues that have come to the forefront include the cost of required clothing for women that the military does not reimburse. That cost is often higher than what men pay.

“The support network is there. Too often we feel like our problems as women should not be discussed in the workplace. If you can overcome that fear and reach out to the master sergeant or the major you saw in maternity uniforms, you’ll find that network,” Woodworth said.

Lawmakers have also brought attention to the issue. Current Interior Department Secretary and former Congresswoman Deb Haaland pushed in the past to create a pilot program that would start maternity clothing banks on bases.

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