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Sword Athena drives change in maternity uniform accessibility

  • Published
  • By Capt. Laura Hayden
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

Sword Athena is making strides toward greater accessibility to maternity uniforms for expectant Airmen across Air Combat Command.

Sword Athena is designed to identify, tackle and present solutions to female and family-centric barriers to readiness using crowd-sourced topics and a Mission Area Working Group (MAWG) model. During the outbrief to Gen. Mark D. Kelly, ACC commander, in May, they identified several discrepancies on the availability of maternity uniforms at ACC bases and ways the online purchasing could be improved.

In response, Sword Athena partnered with Army and Air Force Exchange Services executives to increase availability of maternity uniforms in stores and sizing guides online. Before these updates, expectant Airmen found it difficult to purchase the appropriate sized uniforms to wear during their pregnancies, often having to resort to alternative methods of acquisition and incurring extra costs.

“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, 97th Intelligence Squadron assistant superintendent, Sword Athena member and mother of five. “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.”

Woodworth recounted a time, while stationed overseas, when a colleague had to ask a friend stateside to purchase four different sizes because there were none available to try on or purchase on base.

“Her friend sent her all four uniforms; she tried them on and mailed back the three that didn’t fit,” Woodworth said.

With the help of Col. John Thorne, then a senior officer on the Air Combat Commander’s staff who assisted in translating Sword Athena initiatives into actionable staff packages, the team reached out to Andrew Weaver, AAFES vice president for community outreach. Weaver welcomed the feedback.

Weaver and the AAFES military clothing sales team reviewed inventory of Operational Camouflage Pattern and Service Dress maternity uniforms at locations across the command. This review helped flag clothing sales locations without enough sizing options. "Some locations were joint bases where the exchanges were run by another branch, so their inventory was not populating on Air Force lists,” he said.

To expand the program, the AAFES team worked with the Air Force Materiel Command logistics directorate. AFMC is responsible for setting the limits on inventory available in military clothing stores because the Air Force covers the carrying cost of inventory.

"All ACC bases, except Creech (AFB), had one maternity OCP try-on uniform per size. The intention was for expectant Airmen to then order the uniform from the AAFES website. After our review and working with AFMC, AAFES secured approval to stock two sets of maternity OCP uniforms at Beale (AFB), Creech (AFB), Davis-Monthan (AFB), Moody (AFB), Offutt (AFB), and Seymour Johnson (AFB). All other ACC bases will have 10 sets per size,” he said.

The bases selected for the expanded inventory were locations that sold at least 50 maternity uniforms over the last year.

According to Weaver, the service dress maternity uniform program was also expanded to all ACC bases, which now have at least one size available for fitting. A size chart has also been added to their online listings making sizing easier from any location.

Woodworth is proud of the progress Sword Athena has made to reduce readiness barriers and is already thinking about the next steps.

She noted the importance of forming connections with other Airmen. "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," she said.

Sword Athena uses that network to drive change.

“Many of us were raised to only bring up a problem if we had a solution as well,” said Thorne, 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing vice commander. “Sword Athena has demonstrated that sharing problems across a large group provides the opportunity for Airmen of different backgrounds to share their experiences and construct an actionable solution. One of us doesn’t have all of the answers, but all of us together do.”