Army Myths: There is no “right” way to lace your boots

One of the first things I learned as a new soldier was how to lace my boots. I remember sitting there with a boot tucked between my legs and holding the ends of a long black boot lace in each hand and asking the guy next to me if there was a “right” way to lace my boots.

“Yeah, left over right, the whole way up.”

Left over right, the whole way up.


Because “we always start with our left” or something like that.

For over a decade I have always laced my boots this way, left over right until complete. When I ask others what the “right” way to lace my boots is, they confirm that it is left over right.

It turns out this is another myth. DA PAM 670-1 says nothing about how the laces are to be crossed, only that:

According to the regulation, there is nothing wrong with going right over left, or going back and forth between the two, or – unfathomable – some kind of random design.

All this said, I’ve always done it left over right and I like the way it looks.

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Army Culture: Boots on a Wire, or, the last, desperate act of a disgruntled soldier

boots on a wire fort hood
Boots on a wire

It’s getting cold in Texas. As last week came to a close, a friend came to my office and asked me if I knew anything about why there would be a pair of painted boots in a tree outside of our headquarters. I smiled, ear to ear, because I hadn’t heard of anyone tossing their boots up over a wire for a long time.

I first saw it at Fort Bragg. Going outside for morning formation, a pair of leather combat boots, painted glittery gold were dangling high over us, rocking slowly under the electrical wire. We formed up and I watched the First Sergeant quietly fume as he took roll call.

I asked someone what the boots were all about and I was told that when a soldier gets out of the Army, one of the last things he might do is tie the laces of his combat boots together, paint the boots, and then throw them up over a wire or into a tree in front of the commander’s office, or as close as possible. The bolder you were, the higher up the chain of command you went. I also heard of stories of soldiers trying to get the boots on the actual desk of the commander. Boots on a wire is was a way of getting in one final insult to the Army before disappearing to the real world.

“I don’t get it,” my friend said in my office, “how is that offensive, it doesn’t mean anything.”

I smiled again. “Right, it doesn’t mean anything to the commander. But to everyone in the unit, they know what it means, and the point is, the commander was not able to prevent it and now that the soldier is gone, there is very little he could do in retaliation.”

He shrugged and we walked outside to see a group of soldiers climbing the tree to take down the boots.

Painted Combat Boots

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Uniforms: Ankle rolls and Army boots

ouch ankle sprain what happens when you roll your ankle
Ankle sprain
This is what happened. Over and over and over again.

I’m going to keep this short. This is related to my post last year about what size boots I’m supposed to wear.

If you are prone to ankle rolls, it might be because you underpronate like I do. Underpronation is when your foot strikes the ground on the outside edge of your foot first. It is typical in people with high arches.

Because of this, minimalist shoes are a no-go for me. I’ve tried retraining myself to not underpronate to no effect. Instead, I wear running shoes and inserts that provide cushion and stability. This prevents me from getting injuries when I run.

Underpronation also affects the way that I walk. I’ve always been “prone” to rolling my ankle in the Army, and as a result, I’ve suffered some pretty devastating ankle injuries in the past. I used to think I just had “weak ankles.” A lot of these injuries are because of the high heel in standard Army boots. When I walk, the outside of my foot strikes first. When I’m carrying a heavy rucksack, the entire weight of my body and gear can come down on just a tiny portion of the outside of my foot, and if the angle is right, cause my ankle to roll further, potentially causing injury.

To correct this, I have switched the boots I wear in the field to something with a lower profile and shorter heel, like the Nike Special Field Boots.

Wish someone would have told me this a long time ago.

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Fieldcraft: Removing the toe cups from Army boots

In the old days, before we were allowed to wear non-issue boots, there were very few modifications that were allowed (tolerated is more accurate). The only boots soldiers could wear were the standard issue black leather combat boots, jungle boots (black or green), jump boots (which were pretty much dress boots), and cold weather boots. I’m sure there are others, but these were the main ones.

My desert boots with a flat sole modification. Baghdad, 2003.

In terms of modifications, you could drive off post and find a boot shop that would remove the standard sole and replace it with something else. Everyone had a preference and swore by this sole or that. On my first deployment, I had my newly issued desert boots resoled with a soft, flat sole on the advice of a buddy who had served in Kuwait. He said the flat sole works better when walking on sand.

The other thing you could do is have the toe and heel cups removed. There is a piece of hard material in the boot that protects the toes and provides support for the heel. To make a pair of boots softer and more efficient for running, some soldiers would have these removed. Young infantrymen heading to Ranger School would often have this modification done to help with the running all over the place during RAP Week.

Removing the cups makes the boots a little lighter and definitely more floppy, like running shoes. The drawback is you lose vital ankle support and the toes can now be crushed if you were to drop something on your foot.

For whatever reason, you may want to remove the toe cups. I have a pair of boots that were damaged on the toe cups resulting in a hard crease forming which pressed down on my toes. To remedy this, I decided to remove the toe cups myself (it usually costs around $60 or so at a boot shop). I tried looking around on the internet for instructions, but couldn’t find any, so I decided I’d give it a shot myself.

The following is one way to do it. If you know a better way, please let me know.

What You’ll Need:
• A razor blade or sharp knife
• Needle nose pliers
Shoe GOO


1. Make an incision on the front of the toe cup near the sole of the boot about 3″ long. Cut through the leather and the cardboard inside.

2. Work the knife or pliers between the cardboard and the leather, separating them from each other.

3. Grip the cardboard with the pliers as deep as you can. Begin turning the pliers clockwise or counter-clockwise (I had to go back and forth). This will tear the cardboard from the boot. You’ll heard ripping sounds. Continue to do this until you’ve removed all of the cardboard.

The junk inside.

4. Slather the incision point with Shoe Goo and allow it to dry overnight.

5. Once the Shoe Goo has dried, remove the excess ensuring you don’t reopen the incision.

The results aren’t pretty, but this is a functional enhancement. Still, if there is a better way to do it, I’d love to hear it.

Finished product with a cameo from my reflective belt. You can remove more of the Shoe GOO than I did if you want.

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I still don’t know what size boots I’m supposed to wear

One of the great advantages I supposedly have had at OCS as a prior service soldier is the depth of experience and domain knowledge I possess. Generally, this is true. But having been out of the game for five years, there are some things that I forget, and other things that I brush off as insignificant. As a former infantryman, I should know better than anyone how important properly sized, well broken-in boots are for foot marching. And I do know that. I came to OCS with a pair of 8 1/2 R Belleville’s that I was issued shortly before getting out of the Army in 2006. I broke them in during the two years prior to rejoining the Army on my occasional foot marches. So, the boots are at least six years old, but the heel was hardly worn and the boots were in decent condition, and most importantly, they were well broken-in and felt great on foot marches.

They were still six years old, though.

Just before we went on holiday leave, the sole on my right Belleville started to come undone. The glue that keeps the sole to the boot must have rotted away and my sole was flapping like a duck’s bill. This was during the last couple of days of our final field exercise, so I taped the sole to the boot and went with that until the end of the field problem. No big deal, I thought. I would just go down to Fort Bragg while home on leave and have the boots resoled and it would be good as new.

While home on leave, my rotting boots sat next to my open suitcase as a constant reminder that at some point during my vacation, I needed to drive down to Fort Bragg, drop them off, and then come back a few days later to pick them up. It would have taken a total of three hours of driving and maybe $60.

One day of leave melted into another, and eventually I decided that driving All The Way to Fort Bragg wasn’t worth it, and that surely I could repair the boot myself. I remember using Shoe Goo during my first enlistment to prepare a ghillie suit and that the stuff was pretty powerful (and made for shoe repair, anyway). I set out and bought some, quickly rinsed the dirt off of the boots and squeezed lumps of clear goo between the sole and the boot. Then, I taped the sole tightly and set it outside to dry overnight.

I felt proud that I did the repair myself and saved myself both time and money.

While home on leave, I also grabbed another pair of 8 1/2 R boots that were brand new and sitting in a duffel bag. I figured that I should break them in “just in case” the repair to the Bellevilles didn’t work out. I started to break those in over holiday leave, but remember thinking they felt a bit too tight. I figured once they were broken in, they would fit just fine.

3 months earlier, at the 30th AG…

I stepped onto the Army’s version of the catwalk, the fifteen-foot-long elevated platform that all soldiers walk across to reach the Army civilian that will measure their feet and fit them to the perfect-sized boot. Most of the soldiers processing through 30th AG are new recruits who are quickly being cycled through a number of stations on their way to basic training. Most of them won’t know much about boots and will take whatever is given to them. As a prior service soldier en route to OCS, I knew how important the precious few moments spent with the boot guy could determine how comfortable the next few weeks, months, or years could be. As he began measuring my feet, I told him that I was prior service and always wore an 8 1/2 R boot. He looked down at the measuring device and then up at me. “You’re a 9.”

I looked down at the device and saw that my big toe just barely made contact with the line at 9.

“Yeah, but barely. I think I should probably still wear an 8 1/2 R.”

“No,” he said, “You’re definitely a 9.”

I shrugged. “Okay, I haven’t been measured for almost ten years, so I guess maybe my feet grew.”

So I went off to OCS with my size 9 boots and worked diligently to break them in. They were too loose. I tried buying inserts. I tried stepping on them and squashing them and breaking down the toe and heel cups as much as possible, to no avail. The boots were still too loose. Still, I wondered if maybe this was how boots were supposed to fit. There’s this little sign where the boot man does his job that shows pictures of see-through boots with the toes inside. The pictures show that there should be some space between the toes and the end of the boot. The boot people do their best to try to get you to figure out where your toes are. “Is the end of your toe HERE?” the boot man says as he makes a line with his fingernail in the suede of my boot. “Yes, I think so” I say as I try to touch the roof of the toe cup with my big toe.

The day of the ten mile foot march


Sitting in the dark on the edge of my cot, I slipped on my six-year-old, rotting, self-repaired 8 1/2 R Bellevilles. I tightened them up, stood up, and looked down at my feet. Something didn’t feel quite right. My toes in the boot that I repaired were arching upwards. I tried squeezing my toes to go down, but it didn’t work. I examined the boot and found that my repair was faulty; I didn’t properly seal the sole to the boot, resulting in an arched toe.

It probably wouldn’t matter, I thought. I walked around a bit to get a feel for the boots. I definitely noticed the arching. It felt like my foot was sitting in a canoe. And I knew that anything I felt in one step, I’d have to feel for the thousands of steps during a ten-mile foot march.

So I faced a dilemma. Wear the boots I have been foot marching in for the past two years without any foot problems and risk that the repair will result in some kind of annoyance or injury, or, wear the barely broken-in boots that I brought with me from back home.

I went with the latter. I sat back down and took off my Bellevilles and put them back in my ruck. I stuffed my feet into the new boots and before stepping off on the foot march, hoped for the best. The boots fit tightly, not snugly.

Like most foot marches, everything started okay. My feet felt fine and I put one in front of the other without much thought. About three miles in I started to notice a little bit of rubbing on the inside of my heels. I sighed, knowing that this was a boot-fit issue. “Maybe it won’t get any worse” I thought to myself, fully knowing that it would definitely get worse. This was one of those foot marches where we walk for three or so miles and then take a ten-minute rest. While that sounds nice, when dealing with blisters or any kind of injury, stopping on a foot march can be the worst thing to do. Blisters and sores will go numb on a foot march after a while. By stopping, that numbness goes away and you have to mentally fight through the pain when you start walking again until you once again reach that numbness.

We stopped three times during the ten mile foot march. It was clear to me that the skin on the insides of my heels were in pain. Each time my heel hit the ground, I imagined my heel sliding down to the bottom of the boot and my green sock scraping against an open red sore.

At the end of the foot march, I remember feeling frustrated because the bottoms of my feet felt fine. My feet were toughened for the march, but the improperly fitted boots resulted in unnecessary injuries to the insides of my heels.

After getting a quick accountability of personnel and equipment, we were released to change into dry uniforms and new socks. I eagerly pulled off my boots to see the damage. This moment could either be a morale booster or a complete downer. For the past couple of hours, I walked and felt pain in my heels on each step. My hope is that I would pull off my boots and blood and flesh would spill onto the floor. That would be a testament to the toughness required to complete the foot march. Pulling off a sock to reveal a barely-there blister or worse, nothing at all would make a soldier question his or her own mental toughness.

Peeling off my socks revealed nearly identical sores. The skin had been rubbed off of my inner heel revealing some raw layer of skin that’s not supposed to make contact with the air. I was happy with that result and smiled widely, inviting anyone who was nearby to see. They looked and acknowledged that it was bad before turning to their own injuries.

A few weeks later, back at the 30th AG…

Shortly before graduating from OCS, we went back to 30th AG to DX (exchange used equipment for new equipment) any old or damaged clothing. I excitedly bagged up my boots and when we got there, made a beeline for the catwalk. I explained to the boot man that I had been improperly measured for a size 9 boot, despite having always worn 8 1/2 R on my prior enlistment. He asked me to step back on the measuring device. I stepped into the device and seated my heel deep into the metal. I looked down at the device and shook my head.

“You’re not even an 8 1/2 – you’re more like an 8 1/4.”

So the first time I came into the Army, my feet measured 8 1/2. When I rejoined, I was measured to be a 9. Now I am more like an 8 1/4.

The boot man recommended that I try wearing a size 8. Completely bewildered and unsure of the right answer, I asked him to let me try on some 8 1/2 Rs (Army-ism: “go with what you know”). He agreed and I tried them on. They seemed to fit okay, and certainly better than the 9s. Happily, I exchanged my never worn size 9s for some new 8 1/2 Rs.

I’ve been breaking in the 8 1/2 Rs for a couple of weeks now.

They feel a little loose.

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