The Army is using soldier feedback to improve its new jungle combat boots after troops in Hawaii tested them this spring and summer.
The plan is to outfit soldiers from the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division during a Pacific Pathways rotation to the Philippines and Thailand in February.
In an effort to improve upon the Vietnam-era boots, two vendors were awarded contracts in December to supply the Army with 36,708 of the boots as part of a direct requirement to find a better option for soldiers deployed to tropical areas. Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division started wearing the boots in March to test them and provide feedback.
Program Executive Officer Soldier told Army Times on Friday that after trying out the jungle boots, soldiers wanted a lighter, more flexible boot with a lower profile.
"We took those requests and put them in a request for information [in April] and pushed it out to industry saying, 'Soldiers want this. Give us what you got,'" Capt. Daniel Ferenczy, assistant product manager for extreme weather clothing and footwear at PEO Soldier, told Army Times. "We really gave industry a blank check to develop something that was their answer to this question."
Five vendors responded in May, and PEO Soldier will receive 200 pairs of the new boots from each vendor: Belleville Boot Company, Altama, McRae Footwear, Bates Footwear and Rocky Boots.
"All of these [variants] are lighter and more flexible," he said.
Ferenczy said the Army will evaluate the options this winter, but it hasn't decided yet whether it will choose one of the variants or if the service will combine the best characteristics from each boot option.
The 25th Infantry Division soldiers will receive the boots in January and wear them for a Pacific Pathways rotation the following month.
Pacific Pathways, which debuted in 2014, sends units on a "training pathway" for three to four months in a series of exercises and engagements with militaries from partner nations.
Some of the soldiers wearing the newest jungle boots will have worn the last version, Ferenczy said, so they can do a direct comparison.
When feedback is collected from soldiers after Pacific Pathways, the Army can decide if that version of the boot will be the final one or if more tweaks need to be made.
The 25th Infantry Division first tested new jungle boots last year as part of the $4.1 million program, and their feedback helped Army researchers come up with the quick-drying, puncture-resistant version that was fielded to soldiers in the division's 2nd and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams starting in March.
The push for boots more suited to operating in the jungle comes as the Army conducts more training and exercises in the wet, humid Pacific after years of fighting in the hotter, drier environments of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army's 25th Infantry Division in 2014 even stood up the Jungle Operations Training Center to better prepare soldiers regionally aligned with Pacific Command — it is the first time the Army has had its own jungle school since Fort Sherman was turned over to the Panamanians in 1999.
Ferenczy said in addition to the jungle boots, the Army is also working on an improved hot weather combat uniform, which soldiers will wear during Pacific Pathways as well.
The 25th Infantry Division will receive 21,000 of the uniforms for fielding in January, he said. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team will head to Pacific Pathways, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team will undergo a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk in Louisiana. Ferenczy anticipates that both BCTs will receive the uniforms.
Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at email@example.com.
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