Friday, June 24, 2011

The Army busts out the Ban-Hammer on Vibram Fivefingers

Well, it's official, the Army apparently hates the look of the Vibram Fivefingers, known more colloquially as "Toe Shoes". . . . .from a recently published ALARACT (All Army Activity Message) . . .


SUBJECT: MODIFYING WEAR OF IMPROVED PHYSICAL FITNESS UNIFORM (IPFU)

1. THE PURPOSE OF THIS MESSAGE IS TO MODIFY THE EXISTING WEAR POLICY FOR
THE IPFU.

2. THERE ARE A VARIETY OF MINIMALIST RUNNING SHOES AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE
AND WEAR. EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, ONLY THOSE SHOES THAT ACCOMMODATE ALL FIVE TOES IN ONE COMPARTMENT ARE AUTHORIZED FOR WEAR. THOSE SHOES THAT FEATURE FIVE SEPARATE, INDIVIDUAL COMPARTMENTS FOR THE TOES, DETRACT FROM A PROFESSIONAL MILITARY IMAGE AND ARE PROHIBITED FOR WEAR WITH THE IPFU OR WHEN CONDUCTING PHYSICAL TRAINING IN MILITARY FORMATION. THIS CHANGE WILL BE REFLECTED IN THE NEXT UPDATE OF AR 670-1.

The Army has really struggled with its handling of the minimal running movement.  On the one hand, they are starting to see evidence that barefooot running technique can improve performance, and on the other, they hate the look and have essentially used that to develop their narrative.  The Dinosaurs at the top are trying to reconcile something that has some clear utility but also some obviously unconventional styling.

Though I haven't discussed this issue before, my feeling was that style was certainly going to win out over substance as it generally takes a seismic shift in the situation (i.e. we go to war in the heat, suddenly Camelbaks seem like a good idea whereas once they were banned in a big way) to allow something like the Fivefingers to be a part of the uniform.  Essentially what the Army is saying here is that although there may be potential benefits, we can't get over the look so choose something else.  I've always had a fundamental disagreement with the Army on this issue.

It's my belief that a truly professional Army would choose the piece of equipment that best suits their needs, regardless of aesthetics, and that "appearing" dignified as the basis for decision making leads us into such debacles as the black beret, which we recently ditched.  That being said, I'm no longer so naive as to think that this logic can hold for the Army writ large as there are a great number of soldiers that attempt to get away with whatever the regulation might allow, and care more about getting over than they do about functional utility.  Special Operations on the other hand, is a branch that makes every effort to get the right piece of equipment for the job and I have no doubt that this ALARACT will be summarily ignored if the situation warrants it.

In addition, and I have to be completely honest here, this will likely protect a number of soldiers from themselves and the "too much too soon" syndrome that many of us have experienced.  Many of the minimal brands of shoes available will likely ease folks "downward" into a type of shoe that they can tolerate for longer distances much quicker than a VFF would allow them to.  It seems to me that physical training moves faster than the transition time that might be required to do things safely.

At the end of the day, I don't like the logical basis of this argument, but I understand it.  I just wish the Army would take a slightly more informed stance if they are going to ban something outright in such a sweeping manner.

For those that are interested in alternatives to Vibrams while in formation or what to do if you want to transition to minimal running, check out my post on the subject.

EDIT:  The Navy seems to have a different opinion BTW, they say yes!  Click here for the read.

UPDATE 17 AUG 2011:  SGM of the Army comments on the Minimal Running Concept.

By Marcus with 16 comments

16 comments:

The people who sit in those offices and come up with these rules probably haven't taken an APFT in years. Probably haven't deployed in their entire careers, either. This ALARACT stinks of desk-sitter office today mentality.

How bout this though- I can still show up in my day-glo yellow sacuony kinvaras! Don't they detract more than black VFFs?

@TD

Agreed, which is why I say they may end up doing some accidental good, but their decision making logic is off target. If one was to ban something that lacked of "professional appearance", they would be working their way down a rather long list.

Surprised the Marine Corps didn't lead the way on this...wonder if you can wear your CEP socks?

I think you made some very valid points here. My belief is that as more data and research supports the benefit of the product (Minimal Running Alternatives) the Army will most likely reevaluate its posture and allow for the change. We saw this with Camelbacks, as you pointed out, along with a modified APFT, and most recently, a change to the policies surrounding the beret. If VFF do provide a true increase in the physical capabilities of a Soldier, then the Army will be hard-pressed to ignore something like that. I honestly believe it's just a matter of time and the Powers-That-Be want to ensure they have all their ducks in a row in terms of any wear and use policies before moving forward. Just like the laws of a nation, the policies of an army aren't provided to regulate the actions of the reliable and responsible Soldier, they are for those individuals who, if left to their own recognizance, would otherwise find themselves without true direction. In other words, they are maintained for the lesser men among us.

The author of this regulation seems entirely unaware of tabi. The regulation requires toe pockets to fit all five toes, but only seeks to justify the rule in the case of five fingered shoes. Tabi are technically included though.

"ONLY THOSE SHOES THAT ACCOMMODATE ALL FIVE TOES IN ONE COMPARTMENT ARE AUTHORIZED FOR WEAR."

That would exclude Tabi as well.

This ban of the five-finger shoes is soooo to be expected. The five-finger shoes are just "too weird" for people to accept as "professional." It is a terrible shame that you've got some older enlisted type making such a decision...probably someone who is behind the times in almost all aspects of their lives. I'm a GS civilian and I wear them to work..."professional" or not. Folks "renew" your mind - update your mind and then there won't be anything "unprofessional" about five-finger shoes!

I think the comment about injuries related to too much too fast is appropriate. Given the fad nature of these shoes many will want to wear them without doing the proper training and will end up with significant injuries. As anyone involved in the minimalist movement knows you must start slowly and a PT formation is not were that happens. If you consider the long term damage done by too much too soon and the requirement to have a ready force the ban makes sense. As one involved with providing input for this decision our number one factor was maintaining readiness and preventing injury.

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