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Minimalist Footwear Hits The Military Barracks
***According to the Washington Post’s June 30 article, “Army bans use of ‘toe shoes,’ citing image concerns,” the Army has officially banned the use of minimalist footwear.
The recent barefoot movement has extended past the civilian runner — uniformed men and women have touted the benefits of the innovative new shoe. In fact, all you have to do is Google “minimalist footwear” and “military” to see just how many blogs and forum comments have been dedicated to the topic.
First broaching the subject last year, the Army Times explained that soldiers with lower back, ankle, calf and similar injuries converted to minimalist running shoes, oftentimes at the suggestion of their doctors. According to the article, military doctors are starting to prescribe minimalist shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers. Lt. Cmdr. John Mahoney, Navy doctor and physical therapist at Kandahar, explained that he believed that the VFFs are the best product out there for rehabilitating lower extremity injuries. However, doctors warn the shoes are not for everyone, especially those with very flat feet.
[Special Forces Soldier helo casting during Exercise Emerald Warrior 11 while wearing Vibram FiveFingers. Image credit: Department of Defense, via Soldier Systems Daily]
Military bloggers are praising the minimalist shoe. In “Does the Military Allow Minimalist Shoes for PT?” Chris Barber shared that he had knee problems due to days of trail running and jumping out of airplanes while at Fort Bragg. Now he only runs in minimalist shoes. “Since minimalist running has kept me trail running with less pain, I wondered if others in the military — specifically those who are Airborne qualified and have some of the same knee issues as I do — had begun minimalist running.”
Despite the positive military feedback, rumors of military branches banning the footwear have been swirling within many online forums and blogs. In “U.S. Army Bans Vibram FiveFingers,” Dr. Dennis Shavelson shared information from an anonymous source. Essentially, the tipster posted a policy that would affect those attending basic training and officer basic courses.
[The style of shoe at the center of online rumors.]
The alleged policy states that the popularity of minimalist footwear has increased immensely in the last 12-18 months. The anonymous source related that the rise in popularity prompted the United States Army Physical Fitness School to provide “additional guidance as to the definition of ‘commercial running shoes.’” The policy explained that commercial running shoes do not include minimalist shoes, lightweight track/road racing flats, racing spikes or shoes that simulate barefoot running.
The anonymously sourced information rapidly spread through blogs such as Barber’s and Dr. Shavelson’s. Following up on the anonymous tip and the Army Times story, Military Gear Blog spoke with representatives of military public affairs offices to ascertain the most current regulations regarding minimalist shoes.
The Marines have no official regulations regarding minimalist footwear when training. “The Marines do not direct or limit civilian footwear,” said GySgt C. Nuntavong. “It’s up to the commander.” However, he did stress that the physical fitness test, otherwise known as the PFT, that was taken once a year required Marines to wear socks with their shoes.
[If the rumors are true, servicemen and women will have to shelve their minimalist footwear. Pictured are new Navy recruits in Great Lakes, Ill. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Chris Desmond.]
“The Army does not have a policy regarding this, but the Surgeons Generals Office is studying the shoe and the impacts it has or does not have concerning safety for our soldiers when running in army formations,” explained U.S. Army G-1 Sgt. Maj. Thomas S. Gills. “We are also looking at the uniformity and appearance aspect as well (with regard to the variety that have the five separate toes as opposed to the traditional ‘end cap’ for lack of a better term). No decisions have been made at this time.”
SGM Gills reinforced that the research was in its early stages, elaborating that nothing further would be released until Army Leadership reviewed the footwear from an aesthetic standpoint. The Army uniform is conservative and deters away from anything deemed “faddish.” Additionally, he stated that they were waiting on the Office of the Surgeon General to render its opinion on the safety of the shoes for use in Army running formations.
U.S. Air Force
“There is no Air Force-wide wear policy specifically related to the Vibram FiveFingers while in the physical training uniform,” said LtCol Belinda Petersen, Public Affairs IMA. “Any athletic shoe is authorized. Individual commanders make the determination on whether or not their Airmen can wear the VFF during a PT test.”
“Also, there is no Air Force-wide wear policy restriction regarding wear of VFFs during off-duty PT,” she said, elaborating, “One of the Air Force’s top priorities is to develop and care for Airmen and their families. Fitness is one way of taking care of Airmen and is a vital component of Air Force culture. Proper fitness is an important aspect of an overall healthy lifestyle as well as maintaining peak combat capability.”
“Sailors are not authorized to wear these shoes with the PT uniform during command or unit physical training,” said naval spokeswoman Sharon Anderson in the Army Times article. Chapter 3 of Navy Uniform Regulations states that athletic shoes and socks must be worn with the PT uniform.
Most regulations specify that the yearly PT has to be done in socks and shoes. However, where there is a will there is a way. Soldiers have found a loophole and wear Injinji socks with their minimalist footwear. The socks do not have writing on the cuffs, which is prohibited by various branches of the military.
[Barefoot-ready socks offer one loophole. Photo from Injiinji]
While barefoot shoe wearers share that the shoes do not quite fit the same with the socks, they are happy to be wearing the Vibram FiveFingers.
What do you think about minimalist footwear in the military?