Monday, November 12, 2018

Combat Boots: Then and now

Soldiers on the move in the front line have little time to care for their feet. General George S Patton did however, recognise when soldiers wore good quality boots they fought like Trojans. Today’s makers of combat boots totally agree. Since the Gulf War of 1991, the design of combat boots has changed to meet the climate of the theatre of war.

Traditionally, combat boots were "stiff and heavy,” designed for durability more than performance. Technology has helped designers make them "lightweight, and biomechanically correct. The average soldier carries 120 –150 pounds of equipment and needs to be stable on rough and unfamiliar terrain. It is important therefore, their footwear promotes good posture, includse shock absorbing soles, and is made with breathable fabrics for variable climatic conditions. A long way from the barefoot wars of Alexander the Great.

Modern military footwear is designed to cope with special operations and quick-strike missions, where speed and manoeuvrability are critical. However, like the best laid schemes of mice and men, this does not always work. Modern theatre of war takes place on diverse surfaces and boots need to cope with the rigors of desert, jungle, urban and country settings. Waterproofing is important but so too is aeration with many military disasters in the past to support the importance of the right boot for the right battlefield. US troops were reported slipping in their chemical-protection boots when the rubber soles were not a match for the dust. A sad sign of the times but necessity none the less the military boot of the future will protect the wearer against biochemical warfare.

Sometimes prototypes in situ can presented technical problems which may endanger those left to wear them. Black protective over-boots made of rubber, were worn over the troops' normal combat boots However, it was soon discovered the footwear trapped heat and blocked airflow. Trench foot (or immersion foot) again plagued the fighting forces. Some medical corpsmen ordered their troops to air their feet out for at least two hours each day. Despite a semi-permeable material designed to release heat and moisture, much like the Gore-Tex fabric used by campers and hikers, the MOPP suits failed to "breathe" as temperatures near Baghdad topped 100 degrees in the afternoons. Back to the drawing board for the designers.

Feeding and clothing an army is critical and a major task itself. Prior to Iraq hostilities some British troops were forced to train for action in running shoes because of a shortage of combat boots. When the boots eventually arrived, the hot sun caused them to disintegrate. British soldiers were left to scavenge for Iraqi army boots. A similar incident was reported during the Falkland’s War when the wet conditions caused issued boots to disintegrate. Argentinean boots were more suited to the conditions and hence a prized possession by he advancing trioops. In Afghanistan Army issue combat boots proved too inflexible for crossing mountain terrain. The inferior soles were easily worn down or ripped up when climbing on rocks. Soldiers also said their feet were perpetually cold and wet because the insulated lining of the cold-weather boots made their feet sweat too much, and the boots could take days to dry out.

An army marches on its stomach but in reality when the theatre of war involves inhospitable terrain, footwear plays a very important role. The hotspots of Iraq and Afghanistan have necessitated developments in military footwear which can cope with the territory as well as challenges in making sure the fighting force have the appropriate supplies for combat. Having comfortable feet is a priority for the modern soldier with no room for the old bad habit of wearing ill-fitting and or inadequately styled boots e.g. The Falklands War. Military issue footwear undergoes extensive tests in viva and in vitro, long before the troops lace them up. The major priorities are comfort with robustness plus the capability of dealing with temperature extremes and ground conditions. Military boots need to weather temperatures as high as 50C by day and often below 0, at night and on manovers, troops have often to cross sand and mountainous terrain. Boots need to give support a fully kitted soldier as well as withstand the rigours of conditions ranging from sandy desert to stony ground.

During a series of trials conducted in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cyprus, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) the German Meindl (general issue) and the US Lowa heavy-duty desert boots (in combat roles) came tops. In a very sensible move non-combatant serving personnel will be issued with light weight patrol boots based on these styles and women soldiers will be issued with specialist female footwear appropriate to their role. In addition, troops involved in winter tours are offered two different types of specialist boots for the cold weather.

(Video Courtesy: Minute Daily by Youtube Channel)

Further reading
When two tribes go to war: Fighting Footwear
Reviewed 12/1/2018

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