- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2013

An Army survey of sore-footed soldiers has led leaders to take on a new mission: finding the perfect boot that withstands the weather but properly cushions across long treks and rough terrains.

And the Army has put a team of specialists on the job — footwear project engineers at the branch’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts.

“The soldier lives in his boots,” said Bob Hall, one of the footwear engineers, in The Boston Globe. “If he’s having problems with his boots, he’s having problems with everything.”

Army researchers in Natick are winding down a two-year campaign — sparked by a survey that revealed soldiers’ core complaint, aching feet — to develop a boot for Middle East terrain. The military took prototype boot submissions in 2011, and now the field’s been narrowed to three potential companies with lengthy backgrounds making footwear for the military: Bates Footwear of Rockford, Mich.; Belleville Boot Co. in Belleville, Ill.; and Danner in Portland, Ore.

“We know who makes the best boots out there and we tap into the best technology the industry has,” said Sgt. Maj. Emmett Maunakea in The Globe article. “There’s so much science that goes into it.”

They’re looking for lighter, more durable and more comfortable. And toward the last, temperatures are a big factor. Afghanistan, for instance, hits above 100 degrees regularly in the summer. Boots with solid ventilation capabilities are a must.

The boots from the three companies already have been tested twice, most recently by more than 200 soldiers at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. That post offers conditions that are akin to what will be experienced in Afghanistan. Natick researchers will take the feedback from the soldiers and soon pick the winning boot — or send further guidance along and request the three companies rework their designs.