The barefoot lifestyle blogosphere hasn’t exactly been toeing the line with the recent U.S. Army decision to ban soldiers from wearing barefoot-style or minimalist running shoes while training. It has been literally up in arms over what it sees as a misguided military policy regarding the altered dress code. Here’s the new army reg:

The popularity of Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) and other minimalist footwear for use as running footwear has reportedly skyrocketed in the past 12-18 months in both civilian and military populations due in large part to word-of-mouth promotion by advocates of barefoot/minimalist running, and effective marketing by Vibram and other footwear companies. Additionally, anecdotal information provided in various publications and/or web sites has suggested that barefoot and/or minimalist running is biometrically more sound than shod running. The sudden increase in the use of minimalist running shoes has prompted the United States Army Physical Fitness School (USAPFS ) to provide additional guidance as to the definition of “commercial running shoes” referenced in AR 670-1 paragraph 14-3, dated 03FEB2005. This interim guidance which is offered in accordance with AR 670-1, Paragraph 14-3 states that; “Commanders may authorize the wear of commercial running shoes with the PFU and IPFU. Commercial running shoes do not include mininalmist shoes, light weight track/road racing flats, racing spikes, toe shoes, or shoes that simulate barefoot running. Commanders and leaders at all levels will comply with AR 670-1, Paragraph 14-3.”

Over at Birthday Shoes, several Vibram FiveFingers-loving Army vets (does this make them VFF-VFWs?) weighed in with their own opinions. A quick sample:

I’m an Army chaplain who’s been wearing VFFs for about a year and a half. Last fall, I took my semi-annual physical fitness test in them. I’ve never been a good runner, but training in VFFs has improved my form and taken time off my run.

This is all about economics. I was a basic training company commander for 18 months and saw this first hand. Most Soldiers are forced to purchase their running shoes at the local Post Exchange or Clothing and Sales store. These are usually your basic Asics or New Balance. If Soldiers went and bought their VFFs outside the normal channels then it would bankrupt the PXs. I ran my last PT test in my TrekSports and did really well. I try to tell everyone I know about them. They got rid of my shin splints and bad knees. I will wear mine until my commander orders me not to.

You also don’t run away from grenades with Nikes with springs. You conduct military training in boots because you train as you fight. PT is designed to create better overall physical fitness in Soldiers. Stronger, healthier feet that are created as a result of wearing minimalist shoes will better help one react in combat.

I have been in the Army for more than 20 years and I can tell you this much. Training in minimalist shoes would make every soldier a better soldier. All these worries about “train like you fight” and VFF’s creating problems with wearing boots are nonsense. Morning Physical Training (PT) is only an hour or so. One hour wearing VFF’s is not going to change how your feet function for the next 8 hours in combat boots. No one is going to wear them on an actual mission. As to why the top brass won’t allow them, its simple….670-1 is the regulation that covers “Uniform Wear and Appearance”. This is all about appearance. The Army cares much more about how professional a soldier looks than how professional he or she actually is. That’s why First Sergeants and Sergeants Major spent so much time bitching about haircuts and mustache trims instead of making sure everyone is properly trained. If you want to see where the real training is going on, simply go on to any post that has a Special Forces Group and drive by their compound around 6:30 am. You will see that uniforms are not the focus. Sure, each team might be wearing the same t-shirt, but you damn sure won’t see a bunch of guys in the grey Army PT uniform. You’ll see a lot of black t-shirts with skulls and wings and such, and yes, you’ll see a lot of VFF’s. The Navy SEALs are actually buying them for some of their team guys now. I am 100% positive that VFF’s will never be approved for wear in uniform, but that doesn’t mean that the real warfighters out there aren’t using them. They are……and our soldiers will be better for it.