(AirForceTimes.com) - Two members of Congress plan to urge the Defense Department to ensure U.S. troops wear only American-made uniforms and gear after Air Force Times revealed this summer that an airman deployed to Afghanistan was given Chinese-made boots by his unit.
Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine, are asking fellow lawmakers to sign a letter that asks the Defense Department to comply with the "letter and the spirit of the Berry Amendment," which requires the food, clothing, fabrics and other textiles the Pentagon buys to be grown or made in the U.S.
"A recent news report highlighted an Air Force Master Sergeant who was twice issued boots made in China. When he asked how he could exchange them for American-made boots, he was told 'good luck.'"
In June, Air Force Times reported that Master Sgt. Steve Adachi had difficulties trying to get a pair of boots that were not made in China. At the time, an Air Force spokeswoman said the Berry Amendment did not apply because the law can be waived for purchases under $150,000.
Hunter said lawmakers became aware of the issue from Air Force Times' story on Adachi. The letter to the Defense Department is the beginning of a broader effort by Congress to the department to buy more American goods.
"We think, probably, this is the tip of the iceberg - there's probably a lot of materiel and a lot of transactions taking place that are simply waived by DoD because it's easy to waive them, not because it's the right thing to do and not because there aren't American manufacturers of those goods that DoD needs to buy," Hunter told Air Force Times.
With the country at war and the economy still weak, it is "more important than ever" that the department comply with the Berry Amendment, the lawmakers wrote.
"We should not rely on other countries, particularly those who may have competing global interests, to supply our forces with basic items," the letter says. "This is especially true when there are millions of Americans looking for work. More importantly, our soldiers deserve to fight in uniforms, including footwear, that are made in the U.S.A."
So far, 17 members of Congress have signed the letter, said Ed Gilman, a spokesman for Michaud. The two lawmakers have not yet decided when to send the letter.
The Defense Department declined to comment on the matter.
"We'll wait until we get any communication from members of Congress and then respond appropriately to them," Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said in an email.
After the Air Force Times story was published, Adachi received a pair of American-made boots from the company from which his unit bought the other boots.
The incident made him so incensed that he wrote his congresswoman, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, who later received a letter from the Air Force that reiterated that the Berry Amendment did not apply to the purchase of the two-pair of boots.
However, the Air Force acknowledged that Adachi's unit violated another law, the Buy American Act, which applies to purchases greater than $3,000.
"After significant research and a comprehensive legal review, it appears the sage green boots Sergeant Adachi received prior to his deployment were purchased with the intent to be used in the United States, and thus violated the 'Buy American Act,'" wrote Lt. Col. Douglas F. McCobb, of the office of legislative liaison, in a letter to Hanabusa.
The issue of what troops wear is an important one to Michaud, whose district includes factories that make footwear. He has introduced a bill that would stop the Defense Department from issuing troops cash allowances to buy their own athletic shoes.
"We all remember the outrage this summer when it was discovered that our Olympic athletes were wearing uniforms made in China," Michaud said in a news release. "Well I think we should be as equally outraged about the fact that our troops are not wearing 100 percent American-made uniforms. Our soldiers put their lives on the line for us, and they should fight in uniforms they can trust - uniforms made in the U.S.A."