Midshipmen Donate Sneakers to Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 24, 2004 It's a U.S. Naval Academy tradition. First-year students climb a lard-coated 21-foot-tall Herndon Monument on the academy grounds to replace the white plebe "dixie cup" hat on top of it with an upperclassman's hat, symbolizing their advancement to second-year status.
First-year students at the U.S. Naval Academy struggle to put one of their classmates atop the grease-covered Herndon Monument to conclude their 2003 year. The annual rite of passage is an academy tradition to signal the plebes' rise to second-year status. Since 2001, academy students have donated the sneakers used in this event to countries where U.S. service members are stationed and can distribute them to the needy.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
This year, midshipmen continued what has become a related tradition: collecting hundreds of pairs of sneakers kicked off during the May 20 event, cleaning them up and sending them to the needy in war-torn countries. More than 700 pairs of New Balance shoes collected at this year's Herndon Monument climb are being sent to Afghanistan, where U.S. soldiers will distribute them to the poor.
Operation Shoestring started in 2001, when the academy's Midshipman Action Group collected about 600 pairs of shoes discarded at the foot of the Herndon Monument to send to war-torn Kosovo. The following year, more than 600 pairs of sneakers were sent to Afghanistan. This year, 735 pairs of shoes, ranging in size from a woman's 5-1/2 to a man's 15, are destined for Afghanistan and elsewhere in Southwest Asia.
Patricia Barrows, director of community relations at the academy, said Operation Shoestring rescues shoes that often ended up in the dumpster and puts them to good use where they're desperately needed. "These aren't new shoes, but they have a lot of life in them. And for someone who doesn't have shoes at all, they look really fine," she said.
Barrows said Operation Shoestring also gives midshipmen an opportunity to make a difference in other people's lives by "giving back" to others a tradition she said the academy hopes they will continue throughout their military careers.