You know there's a problem when even the superintendent of an Air Force squadron can't find the uniform items she needs.
A recent report from the U.S. Government and Accountability Office found that pregnancy and child care are some of the top reasons why women leave the service.
Add to that the fact that pregnant women in the military cannot access maternity uniforms easily.
"I was a new superintendent of a very large squadron, and five of our airmen were pregnant at the same time, including myself," Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Genevieve, 13th Reconnaissance Squadron superintendent, said in an Aug. 31 Air Force news release. "Every one of us had numerous challenges accessing maternity uniform items."
Genevieve, whose last name was not released for privacy reasons, was not satisfied with the standard alternative of wearing the physical fitness uniform with tennis shoes during her 2018-2019 pregnancy.
"While I fully endorse the comfort of our pregnant airmen, I personally felt that I needed to represent my airmen in uniform, to maintain the level of professionalism and credibility needed for a senior enlisted leader," she said in the release.
Genevieve tried to find a properly fitting uniform early in her pregnancy. However, she realized she couldn't get maternity uniforms in a brick-and-mortar store, and online purchases would take too long due to supply chain issues. She had to wear a uniform two sizes too big for her, which she described as "a tradeoff, not a solution," according to the release.
"In fact, [the Army and Air Force Exchange Service] recommended that I cancel my order. That's when I asked myself, 'If it's this hard for me to find a uniform, how hard is it for our newest airmen?'" Genevieve said in the release.
She and other pregnant airmen had to barter and trade for the items they needed. Alternative options eventually arrived, but too late.
The experience acted as a catalyst.
"I had never felt compelled to be a part of a women's specific group before, but I met a charismatic speaker at the 2018 Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium, Maj. Alea Nadeem, and was inspired by her story and wanted to be a part of the Women's Initiatives Team," Genevieve said in the release.
With a team of nearly 20, she began working to get Operational Camouflage Pattern maternity uniforms back in all AAFES stores and helped redesign the Service Dress maternity uniform, working with the Air Force Uniform Office..
In just a few months, the team has brought plentiful stocks of maternity uniforms to almost every exchange store.
"To have maternity OCP uniforms available for our pregnant Air Force military women to try on and to have the ability to size up with ease when needed is a real win," Genevieve said in the release.
Genevieve's story and those of her airmen became a vital part of the Rent the Camo: Access to Maternity Wear Act after she spoke with Senate committees.
The Rent the Camo pilot program, designed to mimic Rent the Runway, would issue maternity uniforms and related items to pregnant military members for free and ensure that they are nontoxic for baby and mother.
The program was recently included in the yet to be finalized 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
"It's easy to forget the challenges that others face," Genevieve said in the release. "I want commanders and senior enlisted leaders to always be thinking about what their airmen are going through, even if they haven't faced that challenge before."
Spearheaded by then-Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, the service in 2016 initiated the creation of task force teams to oversee redesigns of female uniforms, including gear and flight suits, after many years of ill-fitting equipment.
The service has since worked to provide improved, better-fitting uniforms not only for comfort, but also for safety.
-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.
-- Bing Xiao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.