Lt. Col. Alfred Boone saw a disturbing trend among the new recruits he oversees at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks.
“Infected blisters, hairline fractures, hip strains,” Boone said, describing the increase in injuries among the new soldiers.
Boone said the Army had a hunch that its iconic boots — the tan, heavy, high laced footwear — were to blame, because so many of the new recruits have never before worn hard-soled shoes.
“The bottom line is that they are rigid and heavy and cumbersome for initial level trainees; We thought they were the leading cause to probably some musculoskeletal injuries,” Boone said.
So the Army decided to do something about it. They contacted different boot manufacturers to come up with a new design for the standard boot issued during basic training. It’s the first redesign of the boot in more than 10 years. The mandate was footwear that was rugged and durable but also comfortable and performance-based.
The result was four different designs. They are being tested at Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Jackson in South Carolina. New recruits alternate between the new ones and the old ones to give feedback to the Army.
Private Suzan Abdel-Aziz loves the new boots. “It feels like I’m wearing tennis shoes at times. I’ll be running, and I’ll look at my feet, and I wouldn’t be thinking I’m wearing boots,” Abdel-Aziz said, while standing in line for an outdoor lunch during training at Fort Leonard Wood. “They’re very comfortable, and I’d rather wear them on a daily basis than having to switch out with my other boots.”
Abdel-Aziz said she dreads the days she is assigned to go back to the current version of the boots, which are nearly two pounds heavier.
“It feels like rocks at the bottom of my feet,” Abdel-Aziz said. “It’s so heavy. And I feel like it doesn’t fit to your feet size as much as the new ones would.”
Private Quinterius Murphy is in the same group of recruits and is testing another version of the upgrade. He said the new boots are comfortable but also durable.
“You can see how my foot is: I can move it and stretch it out,” Murray said.
Abdel-Aziz and Murray’s drill sergeant, Daniel Sutton, said he has seen a difference.
“When they have the good boots on, the blisters go away,” Staff Sgt. Sutton said.
Sutton said better boots mean soldiers spend more time training. “So we will be able to produce more work-efficient soldiers instead of having people in the hospital,” he said.
While the Army is trying to make the boots as comfortable as possible, Lt. Col. Boone is quick to say this doesn’t mean the soldiers of tomorrow will be any less tough or hardened than their predecessors.
“I think you can have comfort and still train soldiers as well,” Boone said. “You don’t have to be put into a harsh condition to make a better soldier. Because if the soldier gets injured, you’re not going to make a soldier at all.”
And while the boots may seem like a small change, Boone said it could be significant.
“This could really be the crux of winning our next wars or not, having soldiers on the battlefield, walking, being injury free; and they are comfortable,” Boone said.
The cost of the new boots is about the same as the current version - $84. Testing of the four new designs will continue into the fall. The plan is to pick the new version of the boot and put it into production by October, with all new recruits wearing the new model by the end of the year.
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