On the face of it, this issue of what to wear whilst running isn't a big deal. But our Army captain is correct in asserting that one of the warning signs of deterioration in the military during peacetime is an emphasis on appearance over effectiveness.
By A Rifle Company
Best Defense culture of the Army correspondent
The Army has officially banned the wearing of Five Finger running shoes. Many garrison commanders have already done so, but the following order has made it official Army-wide:
ALARACT 241/2011 REQUEST FOR EXCEPTION TO POLICY TO PUBLISH ALARACT MODIFYING WEAR OF IMPROVED PHYSICAL FITNESS UNIFORM (IPFU), DTG 231424Z JUN 11. This message modifies the existing wear policy for the (IPFU). 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. (See the message at this link.)
What particularly gets me is the line, "detract from a professional military image." I don't understand how the image of someone that takes their running serious is detracting from a professional military image. Professionals sometimes wear items/clothing that may look "weird" but serves a professional purpose. Anyway, I have had some Five Fingers for over a year, and I love them. They reduce shin splints, work your calves better, toughen your feet, and reduced my five mile run average by five minutes in three months.
Is this a matter of national security? In isolation, probably not. But, I would say that an Army that is more concerned with looks versus results IS a matter a national security.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.