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By Debbie Gregory.

After thousands of soldiers responded to a survey that they would rather buy their own combat boots than wear service-issued ones, the Army is field-testing new combat boot designs.

The survey, conducted by the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Soldier Center at Natick, Massachusetts, found that about 50 percent of the 14,000 soldiers surveyed prefer to buy commercial-made combat boots that are “lighter, more flexible, require less break-in time, and feel more like athletic shoes than traditional combat boots,” Anita Perkins, RDECOM Soldier Center footwear research engineer and technical lead for the Army Combat Boot Improvement effort, said in a recent press release.

The Army awarded contracts to Altama, Belleville Boot Company and McRae Footwear to design prototype boots featuring new types of leather and other materials for more flexibility and reduced weight, David Accetta, a spokesman for Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center. One of the manufacturers designed two prototypes, and the other two submitted one each.

New combat boot prototypes are being issued to 100 recruits in Basic Combat Training, with 200 pairs going to Fort Leonard, Wood, Missouri and another 200 pairs to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and to soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas The soldiers will wear the boots throughout trainings and testers will return to the testing venues in March and April for input.

The Soldier Center will then provide recommendations to Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment for future development of the next generation of Army Combat Boots. The feedback will be used to create the next prototype with the best features from the different boots. It is entirely possible that materials and design features from one boot will be combined with materials and design features from another boot.