By Lance M. Bacon,
An Army message about footwear certainly stepped on some toes.
The wear of shoes that feature “five separate, individual compartments for the toes” is prohibited in All Army Activities message 239/2011. Such shoes “detract from a professional military image,” the message said.
Soldiers are not allowed to wear them with the individual physical fitness uniform or when conducting physical training in military formation.
When Army Times first reported the rule, it drew an immediate response from runners. Many said the Army was forfeiting safety and performance for aesthetics.
The decision was made by Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler and his board of directors, which is composed of key command sergeants major.
“The decision was based on the lack of conformity with the Army’s conservative professional appearance,” said Hank Minitrez, a spokesman for Army G-1. “The Army continues to foster a professional, conservative, nonfaddish image in its soldiers, and they believe this type of shoe detracts from this appearance.”
Minitrez said the issue is not likely to be addressed again. And that is not sitting well with some soldiers.
“Wow,” said one Special Forces field grade officer who runs in such shoes daily. “I’ve been an avid runner for 20 years and have never had something as good as these. Bad call.”
The Army stands alone in that decision.
The Marine Corps allows local commanders to ban the shoes, but there is no servicewide ban. In fact, the headquarters battalion for the Corps’ top brass and support troops has approved them for PT. The Air Force has taken an identical stance.
The Navy on Aug. 5 gave the green light for sailors to wear the shoes. One sailor who does is Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SW/AW) Rick West, Chandler’s counterpart in that service.
Although the shoes certainly boast a unique look, the mimicry of barefoot running reduces the likelihood of injury and increases the runner’s performance, said Anne Tommasi, spokeswoman for Vibram, the maker of FiveFingers.
“Vibram FiveFingers follow the biological design of the foot, which encourages full range of motion, increased muscle stimulation and a natural running and walking gait,” she said.
The shoes are built without a heel lift to discourage the typical heel-strike running form and encourage a more natural forefoot strike, Tommasi said, pointing to medical studies that show this form to be less impactful than heel striking, and the possibility that this may reduce the chance of knee- and hip-related running injuries.