Retired military leaders fear recruit population is ‘too fat to fight’

| September 7, 2010 | 0 Comments

Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown
Army News Service

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Bower (right), a truck driver assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, grades push-ups for Spc. Andrew Duncan, a satellite communication operator, during an Army Physical Fitness Test at Camp Ramadi, Iraq. (Spc. Mike MacLeod | U.S. Army Photo)WASHINGTON — A study initiated by more than 100 retired generals and admirals claims that being overweight or obese is the leading medical reason why potential recruits fail to qualify for military service.

The group, who call themselves “Mission: Readiness,” released their study in April. The report, called “Too Fat to Fight,” outlines how America’s obesity statistics are seen by some as a security threat. The study calls on Congress to pass nutrition legislation to remove junk food from schools and clean up the quality of lunchroom meals.

“Child obesity has become so serious in this country that military leaders are viewing this epidemic as a potential threat to our national security,” wrote retired Gen. Johnnie Wilson, in the report.

According to the study, the number of states with 40 percent or more of their young adults who were overweight or obese, went from one percent to 39 percent in 10 years. Also, 75 percent of Americans, 17-24 years of age, are ineligible for military service because of their weight, educational status or criminal history.

“Over the past 30 years, while adult rates of obesity have doubled, childhood obesity rates have tripled,” the report states.

While current recruiting quotas are being met, some military leaders worry that the shrinking pool of eligible potential service members will cause problems for future generations.

“If you stood up 10, 17-24 year-olds in a room, less than three would be eligible to come (into the military),” said Maj. Gen. Don Campbell, commanding general, U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

However, recruiters don’t seem to be feeling the effects of overweight applicants — yet.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Derr, a recruiter in Springfield, Va., said he turns away one or two potential Soldiers per week for being overweight, but that number seems commonplace throughout his occupation. In his nearly three years as a recruiter, he hasn’t noticed an increase in overweight applicants, and he’s not worried that future recruiting quotas will be hard to meet.

“The biggest thing is their willingness to continue and to work out on their own,” Derr said, of applicants losing weight. “Even if they exercise with us a few times per week, they still need to work out on their own.”

Sgt. 1st Class Donald Gallagher, a recruiter in Altoona, Pa., said the national obesity percentages don’t concern him very much either.

“It’s hard to say whether it will become a problem or not,” Gallagher said. “The statistics are there … but through the hard work of recruiters, we’ll always be able to keep our Army supplied with qualified people.”

Lyndsey Clark, from Charlotte, Tenn., recently did just that; the 18-year-old dropped 80 pounds to meet the Army’s height and weight requirements.

Clark will be shipping out to basic training Oct. 19, and started losing weight about 10 months ago to meet her goal. 

“It’s not impossible,” Clark said. “If you’re motivated and really want it, it’s not impossible. You just need to believe in yourself.”

But will recruiters be hard-pressed to keep numbers up when the job market improves as some critics have suggested?

“A failing economy is no formula for filling the ranks of a strong military,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, in the report. “These longer-term eligibility problems are not going away.”

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