When Senior Master Sgt. Genevieve, superintendent of the 13th Reconnaissance Squadron, 926th Wing, became pregnant in 2018, she discovered a problem: Maternity uniforms were in short supply both online and in stores.
Genevieve, whose last name has been omitted due to security concerns related to her job and mission, refused to accept the typical solution: wearing tennis shoes and a physical training uniform in lieu of an Occupational Camouflage Pattern uniform. And wearing a uniform several sizes too big was not a viable solution either.
“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 an Air Force news release.
After speaking with the five other pregnant airmen in her squadron, Genevieve knew she wasn’t alone.
The stores near Bealee Air Force Base, California, where the pregnant airmen were stationed, didn’t carry the maternity uniforms they needed, and online stores were having supply chain issues. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service even recommended that Genevieve cancel her order.
“Every one of us had numerous challenges accessing maternity uniform items,” said Genevieve.
Family planning and child care are among the most common reasons women leave military service, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study published in May.
“Getting feedback on maternity uniform items is important,” said Tracy Roan, Uniform Office chief, in a 2019 release. “Our goal is to make uniforms more comfortable and provide a uniform that will sustain airmen through their entire pregnancy.”
Maternity uniforms eventually arrived for Genevieve and members of her squadron, but far later than when they were first needed. Genevieve felt compelled to take action.
“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.
The senior master sergeant eventually became a project officer for the initiative, and her nearly 20-person team partnered with the Air Force Uniform Office to redesign maternity uniforms and increase availability.
Since then, maternity uniforms have become more and more available, until nearly every exchange now carryies them in stock.
Genevieve’s conversations with Senate committees also contributed to the birth of the Rent the Camo: Access to Maternity Wear Act, according to the news release.
The Rent the Camo program is modeled after Rent the Runway and offers maternity uniforms and related items to pregnant servicemembers free of charge. The uniforms are certified free of toxic materials that may harm the mother or child during pregnancy.
The Rent the Camo program has been included in the 2021 defense policy bill, which has yet to be finalized.
“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.
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.