History serves as a reminder that uniforms are one of the most basic and important things a Soldier can have.
Case in point; when Confederate forces of the Civil War set out to search for shoes, it led to an encounter with a contingent of Union cavalry. That encounter is now remembered as the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Confederate army didn’t have enough shoes, and the ones they did have were of poor quality, so part of their battle was to obtain basic supplies.
Today, civilians entering the U.S. Army do not have to bear the same struggle in their initial steps to becoming a Soldier, because of access to essentials, including uniforms and boots.
Fort Leonard Wood‘s 43rd Adjutant General Reception Battalion issued 21,000 physical training uniforms, 84,000 sets of duty uniforms, and 63,000 pairs of boots to get Soldiers through their initial military training phases last year.
“You may have 350 people come through in a day,” said Flora Shelton, a Logistics and Readiness Center boot and shoe fitter, who works at the battalion.
“You have to work fast when there are a lot of people in line,” Shelton said. “I can only work as fast as the Soldier.”
Shelton is estimated to have issued a half a million boots in the course of her career at Fort Leonard Wood.
The Cedar Bluff, Mississippi, native, who calls West Point, Mississippi, home, advises everyone, almost in a cadence, if their toes are too close to the end of the boot, they will be back when those boots start hurting.
Pfc. Kesyanda Trader, an advanced individual training Soldier, concurred.
“You are in these boots every day, for most of the day,” she said. “If they don’t fit, you’ll have blisters, and you’ll be looking for moleskin.”
“It takes a while to break boots in, but once they are broken in, it’s good,” she added.
Shelton, who can talk in detail about the differences between Vietnam-style leather boots, to today’s products, said she works to get the fit right the first time.
“You have to get to know your boots when they come in,” she said. “Every time we get a new boot, I try them on to see how they fit, so I know what I’m talking about.”
Shelton’s supervisor agrees that some days can get pretty hectic, but their work is more than just having a Soldier walk away with boots and uniforms to fill their rucksack. Each section in the reception battalion gives Soldiers their first impression of the U.S. Army.
“We take pride in how we treat Soldiers when they come through,” said Renee Cox, LRC Clothing Issue supervisor at the 43rd Adjutant General Battalion, where nearly 30 employees issue duty and dress uniforms each day. “We want to treat them just like we would our own kids, but be firm with them.”
A mom with three grown sons of her own, two with service in the Army and one in the Air Force, Shelton doesn’t let stress get to her and follows the advice of her great-grandmother, Martha Petty, by never speaking a harsh word. She will react, though, if anyone asks her if she wants to move on after 25 years at her craft.
“I’ve got a job,” Shelton said. “I don’t know why people try to send me somewhere else. I’m making history here. I may be one of the Army’s only female boot fitters who has been here this length of time.”
Shelton admits, while so much has changed in boots and uniforms, the one thing that stays the same is her enjoyment of having the unique opportunity to “give Soldiers their first steps to success.”
Pictured above: Flora Shelton, a Logistics and Readiness Center boot and shoe fitter, 43rd Adjutant General Reception Battalion, provides instructions as Soldiers receive their initial issue of uniforms at the beginning of Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Feb. 10, 2017. Shelton is estimated to have issued a half a million boots in the course of her career at Fort Leonard Wood. (U.S. Army photo by Martha Yoshida)