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DOD Revises Policy: Military Must Buy Sneakers Made in USA; New Balance Thrilled

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On Monday, the Department of Defense revised the policy that governs the procurement of athletic footwear for military recruits.

Christine Fox, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, in a letter sent to members of the Armed Services Committee, said that the new policy requires all recruits to spend their annual footwear allowance on U.S.-made athletic shoes, in compliance with the Berry Amendment. Fox wrote, “I am writing to inform you of a policy change I have directed on Secretary Hagel’s behalf with respect to athletic shoes…DoD has an interest in having our recruits purchase domestically manufactured athletic shoes to the maximum extent practicable in order to abide by the spirit of the Berry Amendment.”

An executive fact sheet circulated by the Department of Defense summarized the change as follows:

  • Each service will assess each recruit’s foot type and corresponding athletic shoe type, and, working with the appropriate military exchange leadership, will develop a matrix of shoe type options to be made available to male and female recruits.
  • If one or more Berry Amendment-compliant shoe models correspond to a shoe type category, only these shoes will be made available for purchase using a recruit’s one-time cash allowance for athletic shoes.

There is currently no univocal policy regarding the purchase of non-uniform apparel. In order to avoid stockpiling huge inventories, each of the armed services provides a stipend to soldiers to purchase their own. For example, the Army gives male soldiers $75 per year to spend on shoes, and permits them to spend that on whatever brand they please. The Air Force dispenses about $2.3 million a year on shoe allowances.

However, there is a long history of legislative limits on the military’s purchasing of apparel for its personnel. The Pentagon is legally bound to buy food, clothing and a host of other items from U.S. producers, an interdiction detailed in the 1941 statute called the Berry Amendment.

In a press release, Blake Krueger, chairman and chief executive officer of shoemaker Wolverine Worldwide, said, “I am grateful that the Department of Defense has recognized the importance of providing the Armed Services with athletic footwear made in the United States. Our Saucony, Merrell and Bates brands have partnered together to advance this effort and we are well into the process of producing state-of-the art athletic shoes at our manufacturing plant in Michigan. Wolverine Worldwide is committed to utilizing the full research and development capabilities of our entire corporation to support the training needs of those who serve our country.”

The revision to the Department of Defense policy was strongly backed by U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA). In response to the announcement of the policy revision, she said, “I applaud the Department of Defense for making this policy change which will require all services to treat athletic footwear like every other uniform item, including boots. The DoD has spent approximately $180 million on the athletic footwear cash allowance program to date, which is money that could have gone to American jobs and manufacturing.” Tsongas continued, “Innovative companies, such as New Balance right here in Massachusetts are able to provide our servicemembers with quality products and keep business here on American soil. This policy change will boost job growth, spur economic development and innovation and give the brave men and women of our armed forces better gear. It is a win all around.”

Sneaker retailer New Balance has been lobbying the government for years to execute the changes in compliance with the Berry Amendment; it is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the policy shift since it produces shoes completely compliant with the Berry Amendment that cost less than the current Army allowance. Matt Lebretton, director of public affairs for New Balance, said, “Today the Department of Defense took a big step forward in rectifying what had been an inequity in the application of the federal law known as the Berry Amendment. Congresswoman Tsongas has been a champion for U.S. manufacturing throughout the course of her career and we are grateful for her support of the domestic footwear industry.”

LeBretton continued, “We welcome this policy change and look forward to getting further details on implementation from the Defense Department. It’s time that our troops are outfitted in high quality athletic footwear that is Made in America.”

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