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Study: Women In Military Pay Much More Than Men For Uniforms

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. military is a shining example of equal pay. Everybody in the same pay grade gets the same paycheck regardless of race or gender. But as Scott Bourque reports, a recent study found that despite equal salaries, women on active duty end up paying more for their uniforms than men do.

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SCOTT BOURQUE, BYLINE: On most Fridays, newly-minted Marines graduate from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. This is the day the women of Oscar Co. have spent three months preparing for.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Unintelligible).

BOURQUE: More than 20 years later, Joanna Sweatt still remembers her experience.

JOANNA SWEATT: It was a very - it's still up there for one of my top, you know, things that I've accomplished.

BOURQUE: Each new graduate in any branch of the military typically wears their dress uniform during the ceremony. But for Sweatt, the uniform occupies a special place in her memory.

SWEATT: You are a Marine now, and the uniform is the one thing that we as Marines really take a lot of pride in.

BOURQUE: But the expense of those uniforms, especially for women, force service members like Sweatt to find ways to cut costs.

SWEATT: I think a lot of us got savvier that way, or we found, like, the uniform discount store, where people would drop their uniforms that they got out or if they got kicked out or if they went to the brig or whatnot. And you can find pieces here and there.

BOURQUE: The cost of uniforms varies between services, but a female Marine could expect to pay close to $500 for her dress uniforms and all the required accessories. A recent Government Accountability Office study found that women across the different military services end up paying significantly more out of pocket for their required uniforms than men do. Tina Won Sherman oversaw the GAO study.

TINA WON SHERMAN: So for the enlisted service members, we found that females could be paying about a third of the cost of their uniform item out of pocket.

BOURQUE: Each branch of the military determines the service life of each uniform item, then gives each service member an annual uniform replacement allowance. Across the services, women's allowances are slightly higher than men's but weren't covering the full cost of their uniforms. That disparity adds up. Sherman says over 20 years, a woman enlisted in the Air Force pays about $1,500 out of pocket.

WON SHERMAN: And it's quite a large amount compared to male service members who in some cases, like with the Air Force, actually have remaining money from their allowance and have no out-of-pocket costs.

BOURQUE: The study found other inconsistencies. Male Marines were given an allowance to replace their dress shoes, but women weren't. Also not covered - other required items like workout uniforms, running shoes, and in the case of women, uniform purses and skirts. A spokesperson for the DOD says it is working with each service to implement changes. And Sherman says the Marines have already taken action as a result of the report.

WON SHERMAN: They did identify a couple of items that males and females were either receiving money for or that they were not receiving an annual allowance for and have worked to adjust that.

UNIDENTIFED PERSON #2: Congratulations and semper fidelis. Ladies and gentlemen, the Marines of Mike and Oscar.

BOURQUE: A year from now, these women of Oscar Co. will get their first uniform replacement allowance. If the DOD follows the report's recommendations, their allowances will be equitable with the men in Mike company.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The senior drill instructors will now dismiss their platoons.

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BOURQUE: For NPR News, I'm Scott Bourque.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE'S "BLACK SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.