Recent studies have shown that military women are more susceptible to stress fractures from marching and training, prompting Congress to push the U.S. military to design a special line of combat boots just for female soldiers.
According to The Washington Post, the congressional move comes as selected women have undergone direct land combat training to determine if they can meet tough physical standards to become an infantryman or a commando.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter predicts he will open these units to women troops by January 1, but on the eve of the monumental move, Army women are lacking the proper equipment. In this case, it is the need for boots specially designed for their smaller and narrower feet.
The U.S. Army currently buys different boot styles for hot and cold weather, the rain, and mountain or desert warfare.
Michael Hartigan, a spokesman for Rep. Niki Tsongas, said the Army does not provide a female option for combat boots. “The congresswoman’s provision, however, encompasses all the branches by requiring the DOD to examine its ability to provide women-specific combat boots across all branches and devise a strategy to ensure that women are outfitted with the best combat footwear possible,” he said. “A major part of that strategy will be an analysis of the adequacy of any female-specific combat boots that may already be available.”
The Washington Post reported that Tsongas had heard about the boot gap from female soldiers while on a visit to Afghanistan.
“The committee believes it is important the DOD to ensure that female service members have equipment and clothing tailored to the physical requirements of women in order to operate effectively and not be hampered by equipment that is ill-fitting, uncomfortable, and potentially harmful during operations in the field,” said an Armed Services Committee report.
The report added that the armed forces should plan to provide “a greater range of boot sizes and types for women service members as well as the advisability and feasibility of developing combat boots specifically designed for female service members.”
Robert Maginnis, a retired Army infantry officer and author of “Deadly Consequences,” which argues against women in ground combat, said it is possible that women’s boots could cut down on injuries overall.
“Specialized boots may help with stress fractures,” he said. “There are numerous studies indicating women are far more likely than men to experience exercise-related stress fractures.”
Maginnis said he doubts new boots will help stem injuries from the basic military requirement of long marches.
“Men and women walk with different stride lengths and frequency,” he said. “As I explain in ‘Deadly Consequences,’ when a mixed platoon of recruits marches at the male stride of 45 centimeters rather than the shorter female stride of 38 centimeters, there is an increased incidence of stress fractures of the pubic ramus among women. That finding was reported in the sports medicine literature in the early 1990s. Bottom line is new boots won’t do anything about stride-length issues.”
The House committee’s report on boots, Tsongas said, “requires DOD to examine its ability to provide women-specific combat boots and devise a strategy to ensure that women are outfitted with the best combat footwear possible.”
An advocate for military women, Tsongas also sponsored bill provisions ordering the Army to create a policy for workplace breastfeeding and requiring a Pentagon briefing on “its ability to provide the best prosthetics for female amputees while meeting their physical and mental health needs.”
The Army touts an extensive boot inventory. None is listed on its Program Executive Office Soldier website as being specifically for women.