A member of US Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Europe prepares to climb a ladder during dive ops with the Croatian Zapovjedništvo Specialjalnih Snaga in Split, Croatia, on April 15, 2022. US Army photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt.
American GIs exercised in Converse All Stars during World War II. Though Navy SEALs didn’t exist until 1962, the special operators made up for lost time, often wearing All Stars in lieu of standard-issue jungle boots on riverine operations in Vietnam. To this day, many frogmen still favor the sneakers for maritime missions. Some SEAL teams even issue modern-day operators a pair of all-black Chuck Taylors.
But why? What could a flatfooted basketball shoe possibly offer an elite special operator? As it turns out, quite a lot.
Retired Navy SEAL officer and GWOT veteran Mike Sarraille told Coffee or Die that he and many teammates wore blacked-out Chuck T’s for water ops because the shoes transition well from land to boat to sea and back again. That’s a major plus for sailors who sneak onto enemy ships and parachute or boat to an ocean rally point before swimming ashore for direct-action raids or reconnaissance missions.
Navy SEALs disembark a vessel off the coast of San Diego during training on May 23, 2012. The sailor climbing down the ladder appears to be wearing all-black Converse All Star sneakers. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Kirsop.
More specifically, what SEALs seem to like about Converse All Stars are their minimalist design, sturdy sole, and lightweight canvas body.
“Chucks are streamlined,” Sarraille said, “and the flat sole makes them a great universal shoe, whether you are throwing on fins or climbing a ladder.”
Because the narrow, no-frills sneaker slips easily into dive fins, Chuck-wearing frogmen don’t waste time changing out of traditional scuba booties and into shoes after swimming to shore. Unlike scuba booties, which are essentially protective neoprene socks, All Stars have, as Sarraille put it, “the support of a good sole.”
Service members assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group TWO conduct air operations on June 5, 2019. The sailor jumping from the ramp seems to be wearing Altama boots. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Russell Rhodes Jr.
Also, according to Sarraille, because of the sneaker’s narrow design, SEALs who wear them can easily shove their feet into the 6-inch rungs of a caving ladder while scaling the side of a ship. To top things off, by the time a SEAL reaches the deck, his shoes will have drained nearly all of the water because of their lightweight canvas material and metal ventilation eyelets.
Since the Vietnam War, Chuck Taylors have become so popular for over-the-beach missions that some footwear brands have technologically optimized the style of shoe for maritime operations. One popular brand, Altama, sells an All Star-like sneaker with high-tech features such as wicking mesh and nonmetallic drainage holes. Plus, the brand’s shoes come in multicam and multicam black, which has helped make them popular within the entire special operations community.
You see, SEALs aren’t the only special operators who wear Chuck Taylors — or Chuck Taylor-inspired shoes — on the job. Because they are well-suited for water applications, special operators from every branch have taken a shine to the retro sneakers.
Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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