NORRIDGEWOCK — The first shipment of athletic shoes made by New Balance for the U.S. Department of Defense was sent this month as part of a new contract that fulfills a federal law requiring the military to outfit new recruits with American-made apparel.

About 206,000 pairs of a new model of shoe – the 950v2 – made by New Balance will be shipped in total, officials said Tuesday during a tour and visit from members of Maine’s congressional delegation.

The shoe is 100 percent American-made and will be used to fulfill a $17.3 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to provide athletic shoes for military personnel entering basic training.

The contract was announced in March after years of back-and-forth between the company, lawmakers and the U.S. military, which had not been following a federal law requiring it to outfit recruits, when possible, with American-made apparel.

“It’s taken several years – and when I say several, I mean more than three years – of hard work and perseverance on the part of many people to get us to today, and it’s an important milestone in our journey,” said Dan Wheeler, an executive vice president at New Balance.

After a tour of the manufacturing floor at the plant on Depot Street, members of Maine’s congressional delegation – all wearing New Balance sneakers – made remarks to the roughly 350 employees at the Norridgewock facility.

The company employs about 900 people in Maine, with additional locations in Skowhegan and Norway.

“What a momentous event this is,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “I’m so excited to return to New Balance, and this time not just to report on the latest legislative development in this endless battle, but to join you in celebrating this success. Our military will finally, finally be distributing made-in-America athletic shoes.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent who is up for re-election against two challengers, also spoke Tuesday about his work as a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and how he introduced legislation in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure the military would consider athletic footwear as subject to the Berry Amendment.

The amendment, passed in 1941, requires the U.S. military to provide its personnel with American-made equipment and uniforms to the greatest extent possible. While the military has long issued Berry-compliant items such as combat boots and service uniforms, it previously had been issuing athletic footwear to recruits that was not Berry Amendment-compliant.

The late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was among those who opposed the amendment being enforced because it would benefit a limited number of companies, King said, but King was able to convince other members of the armed services committee to approve the legislation.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, who championed the issue and fought for similar legislation in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, praised employees at New Balance for their role in creating an American-made shoe that meets the military’s requirements. Poliquin also is up for re-election against three opponents in Maine’s 2nd District.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for about three years,” Poliquin said. “I know you folks have been waiting a lot longer. This is exactly what should happen. Our federal government has a job to protect us and to help with American-made jobs, not jobs overseas; American jobs.

“For us, it’s Maine first, and I am absolutely thrilled to be here to celebrate with you. This could not be done unless everybody did this together.”

Employees at New Balance also lauded the contract with the U.S. military Tuesday for creating jobs and benefiting the local economy.

“I’m kind of an old-school girl, and I really do believe we need to bring jobs back,” said Tanya Staples, who has worked for the company for 20 years. “I think we’re going on a good trail here. I really believe that.”

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

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