Army Gives Marines the Boot
By Curt Biberdorf
Special to American Forces Press Service
NATICK, Mass., April 22, 2002 Whether Marines are wading through desert sands or jungle rivers, the Improved Jungle- Desert Boot will keep their feet better protected and more comfortable than ever. Taxpayers will like the money saved, and supply sergeants will like not having to store two kinds of boots.
The Marines' new jungle-desert boot was developed at the Army Soldier Systems Center here. In time, it will replace current black jungle boots and tan desert boots. The Marine Corps plans to begin fielding the footwear at recruit depots in May.
"Marine Corps leadership wondered why they should have two separate boots. They wanted to have one improved design," Natick project officer Michael Holthe said. Ultimately, he noted, the Marines have a universal boot offering improved safety and comfort.
Jungle boots have gone through minor design changes since they were introduced in the 1960s and issued to troops in Vietnam. They have smooth black leather bottoms joined to thin, unlined green or black nylon uppers reinforced at the ankles. Screened steel eyelets on the arches help drain water from inevitable pond or river crossings and downpours.
The distinctive black sole uses a self-cleaning tread with sharp outer edges leading to a smoother center portion. To prevent foot injury from bamboo traps in Southeast Asia, a thin steel plate was embedded in the sole for puncture protection.
Desert boots were first introduced to troops nearly a dozen years ago during Operation Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf. Tan suede bottoms join to tan nylon uppers reinforced at the ankle. A synthetic woven liner helps wick moisture away from the skin. Eyelets are excluded to keep sand out. The steel plates were removed because troops complained they conducted heat. The boots have tan rubber soles with the same tread pattern as the jungle types.
Holthe said the improved boot was a part of overall changes the Marine Corps made to its desert and woodland camouflage uniforms. The boot is made with nylon uppers and leather bottoms, although the leather is rough-side-out and can't be shined. The most obvious change, however, is the color, dubbed "Olive Mojave."
"The Marine Corps wanted to get away from black because it's an unnatural color," Holthe said. "The (new) shade fits in with the new uniform. It's green enough that it doesn't stick out in a jungle environment." Olive Mojave increases wearers' concealment -- it's virtually invisible when viewed through night-vision goggles, while black boots glow, he noted.
Jungle drainage eyelets remain, but have finer screens that block sand yet allow outgoing water to pass. Ankles are reinforced with leather instead of nylon. The synthetic moisture-wicking liner from the old desert boots is included.
The boots' rubber sole has an aggressive tread design and is attached to a new shock-absorbing, cushioning plastic midsole used in the Marine infantry combat boot.
"It's a lot more comfortable to walk and run in, but it's not designed to just be comfy. Studies have shown that boots with this midsole reduce the incidence of lower-extremity injuries," Holthe said. "We're seeing an 80, 85 percent approval rating from user evaluations, so we're happy about it."
He said puncture protection is still considered important, so a steel plate is sandwiched between pieces of fiberboard in the midsole. The plate is kept far enough away from the feet to avoid heat build-up. Inside the boot, black padded removable insoles are standard.
Four prototypes were evaluated by Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Twentynine Palms, Calif., and in locations such as Japan, Peru and the Saudi Peninsula before the final design was selected, Holthe said. Further evaluation Lejeune and Twentynine Palms took place before the decision was made to start fielding.
Another reason the hybrid boot works well is that most of the user population doesn't need a specific boot, he said. The Army will continue to issue and authorize separate desert and jungle boots.
Hoelthe noted a final touch that leaves no doubt about the intended customer. Branded into the leather near the outer heel is the Marine Corps logo -- an eagle, globe and anchor.
(Curt Biberdorf works for the Army Soldier Systems Center Public Affairs Office, Natick, Mass.)