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Lawmakers push for American-made, military-issue sneakers

Feb. 18, 2014 - 02:55PM   |  
U.S. shoe manufacturers and members of Congress are lobbying for a standard-issue shoe for recruits that is 'Made in the U.S.A.'
U.S. shoe manufacturers and members of Congress are lobbying for a standard-issue shoe for recruits that is 'Made in the U.S.A.' (Army)
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The Defense Department has issued a formal notice asking American manufacturers who want to make an athletic shoe for service members to come forward and be counted.

The pre-solicitation notice, issued Jan. 31 by the Defense Logistics Agency, is being hailed by American shoemakers and lawmakers as a step toward the military issuing a 100 percent U.S.-made athletic shoe to new recruits, as it does with other military clothing.

Under a 2002 exemption from the Berry Amendment, which mandates clothes for troops must be U.S.-made, the Army, Navy, and Air Force issue a cash allowance that allows recruits to select sneakers based their own comfort and injury-prevention needs. Despite pressure from Congress and American shoe makers, DoD has for several years resisted ending the exemption, framing it as an issue of choice and safety for troops.

Even as it explores the possibility of U.S.-made athletic shoes, DoD’s position is the law meets the needs of the services and that letting troops select their own shoes “provides the greatest comfort and reduces the potential for injury,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, spokesman for the Pentagon’s personnel and readiness office.

Narrowing the recruit’s choice to one or two manufacturers, as they select a shoe for rigorous initial entry training will, “limit the choices available and may result in more injuries,” Christensen said.

At present, recruits in the Army, Navy, and Air Force can take the allowance, or a voucher, to a reception center or military clothing store where they can be fitted and select from footware approved by the Army podiatrist, according to a defense official. The assortment primarily includes Asics, Brooks and New Balance brand sneakers.

The DLA’s “sources sought” notice calls for “Berry-compliant” athletic shoes, including the cost, maximum production capacities and confirmation that every component of the shoe is U.S.-made.

The notice emphasizes there are no associated contracts nor guarantees a contract will be coming, and says the inquiry is, “for market research only.”

After a previous sources-sought notice did not yield a contract, the Boston-based New Balance company invested in a machine that manufactures mid-soles, the one component it had outsourced overseas, according to company spokesman Matt LeBretton.

Two large sneaker manufacturers — New Balance and Saucony-maker Wolverine Worldwide, of Michigan — and dozens of manufacturers of components like Vibram, have already made public their interest in making such a shoe for the military, he said.

Calling the latest notice “largely unnecessary” and a DoD “stall tactic,” LeBretton said it is past time for DoD to issue a solicitation. LeBretton said the company will continue to lobby for legislation mandating Berry-compliant sneaker until a solicitation appears.

“We’re pretty determined that if the military isn’t buying American made shoes today, they will soon,” he said.

New Balance had supported a provision in the House version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act would have forced DoD to purchase U.S.-made shoes, but it did not come to a vote in the Senate.

Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., who has pressed DoD and supported legislation on the issue said the recent notice was a sign recruits will eventually wear an American-made shoe.

“I’m grateful that the DLA has issued the sources sought, which I think is in recognition that this is not going way,” Tsongas said. “There is strong support for it, and there are several American companies that can produce these shoes.”

Noting President Obama’s call to support American manufacturers in the State of the Union in January, Tsongas said she felt the public, and troops, felt the same.

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