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How many brassieres do you typically pack when deploying to the field for a five-day mission?

How important is sweat management? Thermal comfort? Velcro or no? Padded cups or not? Seamless? Underwire? Stretchy?

All are questions from a 12-page Defence Department survey that asked 2,500 women soldiers what they need in a bra and whether they want the army to provide it.

The survey, obtained under the Access to Information Act, will be used to determine how military women feel about army-issue lingerie, said Major Doug Palmer, program director for Clothe the Soldier, a $184-million project to update clothing and gear used by Canada's 60,000 troops.

"The opinion could be: Don't do anything," Major Palmer said. "It could be: 'Give me some money and let me buy something appropriate.' "

One thing's certain. Finding out if women soldiers want the Canadian Forces to develop the world's first combat bra will take longer than Major Palmer thought -- several more weeks at least.

Then there's the $15,000 survey's astonishing level of detail. "We ask some very specific questions about the most appropriate features," he said. "It's going to take a little longer to crunch all this stuff."

Soldiers were asked to review some brassiere terminology, such as breast separation, durability and coverage, before setting out their military experience, physical activity levels, body dimensions and bra size.

Then it's on to the details -- rating preferences for everything from front fasteners, zippers and seamless cups to padding, colour and elasticized shoulder straps. There is also brassiere criteria -- how important is comfort, speed of hang-drying, appearance, ease of arm movement? Which is better -- the standard compression style or harness type, like a sports bra?

Finally, there's space for advice to a new recruit on the selection, maintenance and use of a brassiere for both garrison and field wear.

If it all seems like a bit much, think again, Major Palmer said. The exact specifications of underwear, clothes and footwear worn by Canadian Forces are significant during dangerous, physical work in extreme climates. And if the clothes aren't right, there's likely no place to get others.

"When I'm in downtown Bosnia and I need a pair of new boots, I can't go to the Bay," he said.

Clothe the Soldier is upgrading 24 pieces of clothing and gear, most designed decades ago before new fabrics and design techniques.

Major Palmer said military women say there are higher priorities than a combat bra, such as ballistic protection to stop bullet fragments and better rucksacks that don't strain the back.

"But female soldiers have said: 'Yes, you should look at this.' "

Besides, army regulations require all women to wear bras on the job.

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