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Frustrations mark run for U.S.-made soldiers’ sneakers

Marketplace Contributor Sep 16, 2015
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The U.S. military outfits service members almost entirely in American manufactured uniforms. This is partly due to tradition, but also a 1940s law called the Berry Amendment, which requires the Department of Defense to do so. There has been an exception though: athletic shoes.

In April 2014, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, who led the lobbying effort to ensure that military recruits sneakers were made only in the U.S., announced that Pentagon officials had “conceded … that recruits’ running shoes should be made domestically.”

Tsongas and executives from several shoe companies, including Saucony and New Balance, welcomed the message and got to work.

New Balance’s Brighton, Massachusetts, factory is outfitted with new equipment specifically for producing Berry-compliant sneakers.

The company invested in new equipment because, as plant manager Tim Luke says, the Department of Defense told New Balance, “If you’re going to make a Berry-compliant running shoe, it needs to be similar to the construction of what we receive right now.”

But something changed along the way, according to New Balance Vice President Matt LeBretton. “The Department of Defense, for whatever reasons, has decided to put up roadblock after roadblock,” he says. 

The Berry-compliant sneaker that New Balance created for the military.

The Berry-compliant sneaker that New Balance created for the military.

Now, 5,000 pairs of the Berry-compliant New Balance shoes are sitting in a warehouse gathering dust.

What’s holding the process up?

The Department of Defense said in a statement that it was running tests and was “committed to honoring the ‘spirit’ of the Berry Amendment, even though sneakers are technically not part of a service member’s officially-issued uniform items.”

There was no mention of New Balance, though.

There may be another reason for the hold up, according to U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, also from Massachusetts, who is an Iraq veteran.

“I know troops who feel like New Balance shoes don’t fit their foot correctly, so you ought to have options,” Moulton says.

Either way, Tsongas says there’s progress being made. She says she’ll urge the DOD to keep the process moving as quickly as possible.

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