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Army Anthropologists Apply Science to Uniform Fit

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2009 – The Army and Marine Corps are surveying their populations to better design clothing to fit warfighters for the next 10 to 15 years.

“You’re literally measuring thousands of people for hundreds of body dimensions,” said Claire Gordon, senior scientist in biological anthropology at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass.

Gordon, who holds a doctorate in biological anthropology, explained the effort in a June 3 “DoDLive” webcast of “Armed With Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military.”

“We'll build databases for those two groups,” she said, “and then those will be used for the next 10 or 15 years to design virtually everything that we buy off the shelf or design from scratch.”

The Army last surveyed its population in 1988, and the Marine Corps conducted its last survey in 1994. “We’ve had an increasing difference between the components and between the services,” Gordon said. “And we’ve had a change in Army [body measurement] in the last 20 years, so we have to update both of those databases.”

Gordon has played an important role in dressing warfighters for more than 20 years. “Pretty much anything you see on the TV that’s associated with a soldier was built on a database that we created in 1988,” Gordon said.

The Army has maintained an anthropometric database – the scientific term for a database derived from body measurements -- since World War II. “Our database right now is comprised of about 132 body dimensions on more than 9,000 soldiers,” Gordon said. “And we have whole-body scans and faces as well.”

To optimize the safety and performance of soldiers, Army anthropologists conduct research on human body size and shape variations that influence the design and sizing of everything a soldier wears, carries, flies, drives, works at or lives in, Gordon said.

“The Army is required to accommodate at least 90 percent of its population off the shelf with no customized sizing, and that’s for clothing and equipment. For life-protecting equipment, as much as 98 percent of the people we have to fit off the shelf,” Gordon said. “So, it’s not as if you could just go from one store and walk three doors down and get something that fits better. You’ve got a one-stop shop, and we’ve got to fit everybody.”

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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Related Sites:
"Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military" on Pentagon Web Radio


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