For the first time in nearly a decade, the Marine Corps is working to develop a new combat boot with the goal of offering Marines a standard-issue option that is lighter, faster drying and has a repairable outsole.
It's part of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller's push to give Marines more choices when it comes to boots and footwear — and to potentially certify a host of new manufacturers to sell Marine-approved boots in the exchanges.
"Gen. Neller has asked the program office to … take the Marine combat boot that is in the seabag now and make that a better boot," said Todd Towles, the program officer for the clothing team at Marine Corps Systems Command.
Marines have complained that the current combat boot, first fielded in 2002, is too heavy.
A new version of combat boots will be tested at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego later this year. Roughly 200 recruits will receive and test the new boots, according to Gunnery Sgt. Donald Bohanner, a spokesperson for the recruit depot.
The recruits will wear the new boots for the duration of recruit training, and some drill instructors may also participate in the new testing. At the completion of recruit training, Marine recruits will fill out surveys about the new boots, which will help
Marine Corps officials in designing a new combat boot. Planning is still in the early stages and not every detail has been worked out, Bohanner told Military Times.
The final version could be a 6-inch boot or a 10-inch boot, Towles said. Every inch you take off, the lighter the boot gets and the quicker it dries.
'RAT' Boot canceled
The search for a new combat boot comes after the Corps reversed its plans for the rugged all-terrain boots, known as RAT boots.
The RAT boot is "big, heavy, and clunky," a military official told Military Times. The boot is not ideal for the climates we have been operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, and though the boot is tough, they get hot.
The RAT boots are also expensive, costing Marines more than $300, or more than double the cost of the combat boots.
Marine Corps officials recently canceled the RAT boots as a standard-issue item for recruits entering the service. Under current rules, Marines at boot camp are now issued the standard combat boot.
The RAT boot is still certified for wear for Marines who like it, but it is not considered part of a Marine's official seabag, officials said. In the fleet, Marines are required to maintain at least one pair of temperate-weather boots, which can be either the traditional combat boot or the RAT, officials said.
In developing a new combat boot, the Corps is "looking for a boot that dries out faster, a boot that is lighter weight than the combat boot and RAT boot, and has great ankle support," Towles said.
MADE IN THE USA?
The commandant has big ambitions for the Corps' future footwear.
Neller wants "Marines to have multiple options for high quality, affordable boots," according to Lt. Col Eric Dent, the spokesman for Neller.
Marines have noticed companies like Nike and Converse developing incredibly lightweight and fast-drying boots, gear Marines would love to have, but can't because of legal restrictions.
The problem is that the Marine Corps cannot just purchase Nike and Converse boots and put them in the exchange. All Marines' boots must comply with a federal law known as the Berry amendment, which requires that all military uniform items purchased for the Defense Department must be manufactured in the U.S.
This restriction has made it difficult for the military to procure the latest and best technology for boots and footwear because most footwear in the U.S. is manufactured overseas.
The Marine Corps is not necessarily looking for an off-the-shelf commercial boot, but is looking to find the best qualities among a range of tested boots. After that, the Corps plans to design a boot with all the best qualities based on the tests and user evaluations.
Once the Corps decides on a specific design, officials will submit a solicitation offer for manufactures to build it.
"We want to design our specs and have it be Marine Corps owned," Towles said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.