Remember those Jungle Combat Boot designs the Army was testing in 2017? Army uniform officials said Friday that soldiers can buy versions of the boot prototypes that performed well in testing after the service decided against fielding them to units who could find themselves fighting in the hot, swampy jungles of the Pacific.
The boots will be available at military exchange stores.
The Army began working on the jungle boot effort in late 2016, when service senior leadership directed uniform officials to test out new designs. The goal was to improve on the Vietnam War-style boots that soldiers and Marines wore into the mid-2000s before the services transitioned to the desert-style boot.
The test effort -- which involved about 10,000 boots from five different boot companies -- produced two different design versions that were evaluated by soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division in 2017 and 2018.
Related: Army to Test New Jungle Boot Designs
But instead of selecting a winning Jungle Combat Boot design for fielding to tropical units, the Army's senior leadership in July approved an Army Uniform Board recommendation to make the boot an optional clothing bag item that soldiers can purchase in Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) military clothing sales stores, Col. Stephen Thomas, head of Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, told Military.com in an Aug. 9 interview.
"That was probably the better approach to provide these boots through AAFES to let soldiers decide which boots they wanted to wear," Thomas said.
The Marine Corps conducted a similar effort to identify a better-performing jungle boot, and now plans to buy about 70,000 pairs of tropical boots that will go into the Consolidated Storage Program for issue on an as-needed basis, Marine Maj. Ken Kunze told Military.com.
The Army Uniform Board decided on the recommendation in September 2017 as uniform officials were preparing to conduct a second round of tests on a lighter, more flexible design.
The Army had already field-tested about 9,000 pairs of one JCB design with the 25th in early 2017, but received complaints from soldiers that the boots were too stiff, and the heel design made it difficult to walk without tripping on undergrowth in the jungle.
"We went to the Army Uniform Board and said, 'Here is what we are doing for Version One; here is what we are doing for Version Two.' But what they approved [for recommendation] was a Jungle Combat Boot, so either variant could be kept as an optional item," Jay McNamara, extremity protection project engineer at the Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center, said in the interview.
Uniform officials conducted a second round of jungle boot evaluations with the same soldiers in the 25th in early 2018.
"The feedback was very positive; there were five different variants, and three of them sort of came out as winners," McNamara said.
Thomas said the Army could not name the three vendors that performed better because this "wasn't a program of record; it was just a user assessment."
Soldiers said they liked the design features of the boots on the second evaluation, naming quick drying time and traction as stand-out features, McNamara said.
"The driving factor from Version One to Version Two was they tried to make them lighter weight, more flexible and bring their foot closer to the ground," he said. "All three of the ones that performed well had that reduced [heel] stack height, and they were lighter weight and ... noticeably more flexible."
Then, uniform officials created a "performance-based specification sort of around those boots that performed well," McNamara said. "The boots that AAFES is stocking in military clothing sales stores that are labeled Jungle Combat Boots all do meet the specification that we developed."
The guidance that Program Executive Office Soldier provided the company that manages military exchanges also stated that the boots must meet formal Army uniform standards, officials said.
Uniform officials said they didn't know the price of the boots being sold by the exchanges. They also could not say with certainty that AAFES is selling jungle boots that meet the specifications the Army provided.
Military.com reached out to AAFES on Friday to ask whether the jungle boots on the shelves meet Army specifications but did not receive an answer by press time.
Army uniform officials could not say why the Army chose not to field the JCB to Pacific-based units.
"The boots are a result of the ... assessment," Thomas said. "The Army has that information should they decide to go to a higher level."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.