The Defense Department issued a new rule Friday that could prohibit boot-camp recruits from using their one-time cash allowance for athletic footwear to buy foreign-made shoes.
The rule stems from a federal law known as the “Berry Amendment,” that requires DoD to buy American-made goods when possible. This law has not applied in the past because there were no entirely American-made shoes on the market.
However, shoemaker New Balance in December provided DoD with prototype shoes that meet the Berry Amendment standards and suggested they soon would be available for widespread distribution and sale. Several other shoemakers also have contacted the Pentagon and signaled an interest in selling American-made shoes to the military.
If and when “one or more Berry Amendment-compliant shoe models” are made available on the commercial market, the service’s respective boot camps “should ensure that recruits are able to purchase these shoes, and only these shoes, using their one-time cash allowance,” according to a memo from acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox.
The restrictions will apply only after the Pentagon has wear-tested the American-made shoes and only if those shoes are well suited to individual recruits’ feet. A defense official emphasized that troops will not have to buy shoes that do not fit properly.
The Army, Navy and Air Force offer new recruits a onetime footwear allowance of about $80. The Marine Corps will not be affected because it offers only a general clothing allowance that does not specifically apply to shoes.
Recruits will continue to be able to purchase any brand of shoe with their own money and wear them for athletic activities on duty.
Fox’s memo also instructed the services to conduct a joint study of footwear to ensure that recruits feet are being properly evaluated and matched with the most appropriate shoe type. That study will be completed in December.
The change was driven in large part by Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, whose district includes a New Balance footwear factory.
“Today’s decision is a tremendous victory for American manufacturers who, day-in and day-out, produce high-quality goods — like New Balance sneakers,” Michaud said in a statement. “It only makes sense that we equip our country’s bravest men and women with products made by some of our country’s hardest working manufacturers. Today’s decision is truly a win-win for everyone and is an example of the kind of action we can take to ensure we have the backs of American workers. I’d like to thank President Obama and Defense Secretary Hagel for taking this important step.”