Army Obesity: U.S. Military Rejects Unfit Recruits

By iScienceTimes Staff on December 11, 2012 12:11 PM EST

U.S. Army Soldier in Iraq
These soldiers, taking a break while serving in Iraq, need to stay fit if they want to stay in service. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

The U.S. Army is turning away recruits and booting troops for being obese, the Washington Post reports. This year the U.S. Army has decided 1,625 soldiers were contributing to Army obesity, 15 times the number discharged for the same reason in 2007. Because of increased budgetary pressure, the U.S. Army needs to reduce their numbers by tens of thousands of soldiers in the next few years, from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017, and is cutting no slack when it comes to physical fitness standards. The U.S. Army employed the same strategy after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Army obesity standard is keeping soldiers out of the military too.

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"Of the 25 percent that could join, what we found was 65 percent could not pass the [physical training] test on the first day," Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling told the Washington Post. "Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll - the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you're in combat."

The U.S. Army was more accepting of physical limitations, and virtually no one was discussing Army obesity a few years ago when the U.S. was embroiled in wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. Army would issue waivers for those who were (literally) unfit to serve as well as potential soldiers with criminal records. Now that the Iraq war is officially over and troops are winding down activity in Afghanistan for a 2014 departure, the U.S. Army is now looking to shed the dead weight of Army obesity.

"We will use the drawdown as an opportunity to shape our Army by ensuring that we retain only the very best soldiers," Army Secretary John M. McHugh wrote in a Feb. 2 memo uncovered by the Washington Post.

 Not everyone who is considered part of the Army obesity problem wants to leave service, and some are taking to Internet forums to make their voice heard.

One woman wrote on a court martial defense site:

I just want to know how the dice are going to land. (single income family, many deployments) He spent an hour after work at the gym, ate different meals than the family, and was told daily he was a "bad soldier." He receives the highest marks on every other aspect and passes the PT scores easily. He will be separated, they refuse to acknowledge the medical reasons for his weight gain (documented by his provider), and he is required to pay back the entire $28K bonus because we only completed some of the years. Why, when he is a non-combat MOS, can they not let us finish the last two years in peace? He loyally does a six-figure job for pennies! Now he is treated like he is worthless, deprived of his income AND told he must repay the entire bonus even though he has started into the years we agreed to continue the torture of military life!

So while some see the Army obesity standard as unfair, others are pointing out that it can also be exploited. One commenter wrote:

Is there anything that can be done when you know a soldier is purposely gaining weight to get out? He just joined last year and graduated AIT this year, so now he's gaining weight to get out and take his skills to the civilian world. As a vet myself, I think it's disgusting and want to know if there is anyway to report it?

Whether or not they want to stay or go, former Navy SEAL and military fitness guru Stew Smith believes that obesity and military service just don't mix.

"Being out of shape is a huge distraction for our recruits and soldiers. Many of these active duty and reserve soldiers do not make advancement to higher ranks, therefore losing extra pay, benefits, and future selection to jobs needed for career advancement," he wrote in an editorial for Military.com. "And, on a far worse level, if the overweight and obesity of our troops is not fixed, we are dealing with a national strategic problem which makes it difficult to defend America from our enemies."

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