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New enlistees to receive free, American-made athletic shoes

Soldiers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team "Currahee", 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), participating in the Soldier, NCO of the quarter and Audie Murphy board, begin the run portion of the Army Physical Fitness Test, at forward operating base Salerno, Afghanistan, July 14, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Justin A. Moeller)

They’re American-made and they’re free, at least to the basic training recruits who this month began receiving military-issued athletic shoes at no monetary cost — there’s no accounting for blood, sweat and tears.

Previously, servicemembers were required to pay for running shoes, either out-of-pocket or with cash allowances, the Defense Logistics Agency said Tuesday. It announced that it had begun delivering the athletic footwear under a provision of the 2017 military funding bill requiring the Pentagon to provide the made-in-the-USA sneakers for free.

Under the mandate, more than 250,000 recruits from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force each year are expected to receive new kicks made by one of three American companies.

The Air Force was the first to receive theirs, which nearly 900 recruits began donning at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, on Jan. 2. The other branches are scheduled to begin receiving the new trainers later this year.

In the past, having troops buy their own shoes allowed the Defense Department to sidestep the Berry Amendment, a 1941 federal law requiring DOD to “buy American” as much as possible for uniform items and certain other goods. The effort to change that practice kicked off a 2016 fight in Congress, but it was eventually pushed through.

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Most of the world’s running shoes are made in Asia or contain some components manufactured overseas.

Boston-based New Balance Athletics, which introduced a Berry Amendment-compliant shoe in 2014, had long lobbied the government to follow that law and seemed most likely to benefit from the 2017 mandate, but there wasn’t a single shoo-in when it came time for DLA to select manufacturers.

In the end, three American companies were awarded contracts, each with an 18-month base term and an optional second 18-month term.

The first contract, valued at an estimated $34 million, went to San Antonio Shoes in Texas to provide an initial 206,000 pairs, with up to 192,000 under the option term.

Puerto Rico-based Propper International got the second contract last February, valued at up to $27 million, for 180,250 pairs initially with 168,000 more possibly to follow.

And last March, New Balance was tapped to provide 128,750 pairs at first and a possible 120,000 after that, for a total of up to $17 million.

The shoes, which will cost the government about $90 a pair, come in a variety of sizes. Some 100 men’s sizes in four different widths from sizes 4 to 16 and 40 women’s sizes in two widths from sizes 4 to 13 will be available.

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“Recruits now have more variety in lengths and widths than any commercial athletic shoe in the world,” said Air Force Col. Melvin Maxwell, the DLA Troop Support Clothing and Textiles director, in a statement.

In each size, shoes will come in three varieties based on the prospective wearer’s feet: neutral for high arches, stability for moderate arches and motion control for low arches.

Navy recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., are expected to begin getting the new shoes in April, followed by Army and Marine Corps recruits at those services’ basic training bases in October.

The Coast Guard, which will place monthly orders, will begin phasing in the new DLA-procured shoes this month in Cape May, N.J., as it depletes its existing stock of American-made shoes from an earlier contract, said Chris Mouldon, manager of the Coast Guard Uniform Distribution Center.

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