Boots on the ground

A paratrooper descends into a battle zone, sheds his parachute and hits the ground running. A minesweeper steps gingerly through a field, scanning for unexploded ordnance. A Marine slogs through the jungle, his feet fighting their way through the dense underbrush. Different warriors in different settings, but they all might have one thing in common: the company that made their shoes.

The Waynesville-based Wellco Enterprises doesn’t manufacture every combat boot worn by U.S. service members, but with 30 different specially designed models sold to the Defense Department in large numbers each year, the company can rightly claim to be one of the predominant suppliers of boots on the ground, so to speak.

Wellco also produces military shoes and boots for U.S. allies, as well as footwear for domestic law enforcement, private security officers, industry and the general public. But Chief Executive Lee Ferguson estimates that 80 percent of his company’s business comes from the U.S. armed forces.

“It ranges—the contracts vary,” he explains, “but the general year for us is about 600,000 pairs [sold], and it can go all the way up to over a million pairs.”

Wellco operates facilities in several different states, but its headquarters and a key distribution center are in Waynesville, where the company has 68 employees. There, Wellco also makes and attaches soles to shoes and boots, as well as finishing and inspecting various products.

Name your military-footwear need, and chances are Ferguson can offer a product to satisfy it. There’s the classic Tactical Lightweight Combat Boot, for example, the Air Force Hot Weather Flame Resistant Steel Toe and the Navy Steel Toe Temperate Weather Aviator Boot. But Wellco’s best-seller, says Ferguson, is the Tan Hot Weather Army Combat Boot—the type seeing a good deal of use in Iraq and Afghanistan. And at $89.95 a pair, it’s also one of the company’s cheapest military models. At the other end of the spectrum is the Mine Protective Boot (available in black and tan models), which goes for a whopping $339.95.
Info: Wellco Enterprises Inc., 150 Westwood Circle Waynesville NC 28786 (456-3545 or 800-840-3155; www.wellco.com).

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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