"My feet sweat a lot," said Army Sgt. Keith Moureau, 24, of Green Bay, Wis. "I think you do anything you can to get more comfortable here. This is war."
Moureau sat among seven servicemen in the small fitting room of the Saudi Shoe Co. factory in Dammam, trying on one of the company's beige suede boots, which look like high-top Hush Puppies.
By most accounts, the factory is the cradle of a podiatric revolution among U.S. troops serving in Operation Desert Storm. It was there, back in August, that an Army military policeman stopped to ask directions of Renard Kampstra, the plant manager, an American who used to work in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the company that makes Hush Puppies.
Kampstra gave the M.P. a tour of the factory, where he saw the smooth suede boots, discovered how much lighter and cooler they were than his own green-and-black jungle boots, bought a pair, and quickly spread the word.
"We've been busy ever since," Kampstra said.
Kampstra said he had sold between 10,000 and 15,000 pairs -- at $40 a pop -- to American troops. In addition, he said, the U.S. military has contracted to buy 30,000 pairs of a slightly modified version of the boot and is considering purchasing more.
Buyers of Kampstra's boots say they are superior, at least for desert hiking, to the Army-issue boots, which are more suited to the jungle. They have ventilated holes in the sides that are intended to let water out. In the parched desert, they let sand in. They have a steel plate in the bottom, which conducts the heat of desert sand to sweaty feet. And their black leather requires constant polishing. Beige suede doesn't.
Desert Storm commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf has been wearing suede boots at least since the middle of December, when he told reporters:
"What I am is an infantryman who for 35 years had his feet abused by boots, and I think it's about time to get a decent boot for the troops."
Footsteps to Follow
On Feb. 6, 1968, Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Eugene Ashley Jr., 36, was an adviser in a bid to rescue trapped Green Berets near the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp during the Tet offensive in Vietnam.
He was wounded twice by machine-gun fire in five assaults but continued the mission and died after calling in an air strike. His body, presumed to have been carried off by North Vietnamese soldiers, was never recovered.
"I always wanted to be like my father," said his son, U.S. Army Sgt. Darrin Ashley, 24, who leads a tank-killing TOW-missile squad in northern Saudi Arabia. "I could follow in his footsteps, but I could never fill his shoes."
In a glass case at home in Fayetteville, N.C., Ashley keeps the Medal of Honor that Congress awarded his father, posthumously.
"Everybody says can I do the things he did, which I don't think I could. But I'd like to give it a try," Ashley said, who is serving at a forward observation area overlooking Iraqi positions.
He puts on a brave face after six months in the desert, now sleeping in the frosty winter wind. He was last able to shower a month ago. "Sometimes when I get down, I think about him a lot," the young sergeant said. "It gets my spirits back up. It gets me motivated."
Pvt. Hugh Bohannon, 20, of Buffalo, N.Y.: "There will be all new music when we get back, a new way of dancing. We will look like dorks, like we're dancing the watusi or something." From military pool reports