This type of story harks back to an Army era where OG 108 uniforms were expected to be highly starched in garrison, shining shoes and brass was a routine part of life in the military and indeed most civilians think it such an intristic part of military life the acts are constanlty lampooned in popular culture to show the military as a bunch of mindless laborers doing menial work.
I saw a couple of troops in the airport when we went on vacation a few weeks ago. Like me when I retired in 2008 they were wearing the Army ACU uniform with the rough side out tan boots. I did like to wear these as they did require less daily maintenance in theater, especially when stuck at Camp Arifjan where everybody thought that they were at some deployed version of the Pentagon or something and "on-the-spot" corrections were thrown around like sand in the wind (and there was a lot of that to begin with!). The boots did not require polish to maintain, but a stiff bristle brush to remove the dirt in the nap of the leather and maybe and eraser to remove errant marks on the leather. Matter of fact the entire ACU ensemble was designed with low care maintenance a feature with the uniform actually engineered originally to be replaced every 6 months in the field with velcro name tapes, rank and unit patches en vogue for the troops.
This initiative started almost 2 decades ago when the Army started to preach (at least in theory) the "buff and puff" mantra of appearance with the "old" BDU uniform. This meant that soldiers were expected to keep a polished brush shine on their boots and that the BDU uniform was permanent press so once removed from the dryer it was hung on a hanger and hand smoothed as best possible. The "new" combat boots at the time supposedly differed from the older black LPC boots (that's Leather Personnel Carrier boots to you non-Infantry types) in that it was impregnated with some chemical barrier in the leather and would not take a shine to begin, with...that was hogwash...I knew enough people that got shines on them. Probably another basic training lore like putting saltpeter in the food to dissuade...well, you know. Despite this, soldiers of the "old guard" and some of their subordinates that they influenced kept the tradition of ironing, starching (against regulations, although "sizing" spray was allowed) and spit shining boots alive and well...for a while.
All of this knowledge lost because we changed boots...sad...
All of this was meant to help dispel the notion to the "newer and smarter" recruits of the all volunteer Army that came about post Vietnam that they were simple laborers and that their time was better spent learning and soldiering than polishing and ironing. Not that I have a problem with that in principle..I mean these "kids" going through basic training (now 10 weeks instead of the 8 during most of my career) are being trained to go directly to units deploying to combat zones. I get it. Teaching a soldier how to keep himself alive or his battle buddy does take precedence over shining some boots or making sure a gig line crease was correct on a pair of trousers.
Still, I can't help but shed a tear a bit at the loss of a bit of Army culture from my generation. Sure, jump boots are still spit shined by Airborne personnel and worn with their dress uniform pants blouse in them, but for most of the Army this is now a mostly forgotten legacy. Low quarter (dress) shoes have been issued as a permanently shined plastic version for a while (I used to pay for those to wear them with my dress B uniform, which was my duty uniform for a few years), brass is not also a high gloss, no touch item and lord knows what else by now. I fondly remember Infantry OSUT training at Ft Benning sitting outside our barracks shining out boots...it was a time of peace and calm for the most part in an environment that surely did lack it. It was, for me at least, almost a form of zen meditation where I could collect my thoughts and think a bit while deftly moving a damp cotton diaper in circles over the polish on my boots bringing them to a glossy shine.
So today we are a far different force that the one I swore into 26 years ago...mostly for the better I think but with these little rituals of military life disappearing there will be soon little to culturally differentiate the soldiers on the battlefield from the civilian contractors that are so abundant over there. Maybe new rituals will take their place, but I doubt it. Can anyone in the "new Army" actually tell me why a soldier would iron a crease going from shoulder to shoulder across their back in their BDU blouse? Didn't think so.....