They are shot at, bombed, and isolated in an inhospitable environment, where the weather cycles between extreme heat and cold, and the night brings the prospect of more attacks from a ghostly enemy.
Yet when the Army surveyed soldiers about improving conditions during their deployment, it discovered a seemingly unusual concern: sore feet.
“The soldier lives in his boots,” said Bob Hall, a footwear project engineer at the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. “If he’s having problems with his boots, he’s having problems with everything.”
More than a decade into the war in Afghanistan, Army researchers in Natick are in the final stages of a two-year process to develop a boot made specifically for soldiers to traverse the unforgiving environments of the Middle East.
Graphic: Boots for Middle East
After calling for submissions in 2011, the Army has narrowed the field to three competitors, each of which specializes in American-made military footwear: Bates Footwear of Rockford, Mich., Belleville Boot Co., in Belleville, Ill., and Danner in Portland, Ore. Each version is its own marvel of fine-detail engineering.
‘The soldier lives in his boots. If he’s having problems with his boots, he’s having problems with everything.’
“We know who makes the best boots out there, and we tap into the best technology the industry has,” said Sergeant Major Emmett Maunakea, who served four tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and advises a team at Fort Belvoir, Va., that develops equipment for soldiers. “There’s so much science that goes into it.”
And they had better be comfortable, too.
Hmm…. a leather, canvas and nylon boot that’s lightweight. Seems to me, the original jungle boot pretty much fit that bill, at a hell of a lot less expense.
When I was in the 25th Infantry division, every soldier had on hand his two DMS full leather combat boots, as issued as part of his clothing bag allowance. But in the division, each soldier was also issued two pair of jungle boots, as Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment. The difference was, the soldier was responsible for the DMS boots, but jungle boots, as organizational equipment, could be exchanged at no cost to the soldier when they wore out or otherwise became unserviceable.
When the battalion would head over to The Big Island for training, we’d spent the majority of our time in the island’s vast lava beds. Accordingly, we were directed to bring only jungle boots, as a month or so of operations in that terrain would surely ruin any pair of boots, DMS or jungle or what have you.
In the 19 months I spent in the division, I probably went through 8 pairs of jungle boots.