Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Too Fat To Fight: Military Threatened By Childhood Obesity
Even the kids in America's fittest state are too fat to fight their nation's wars, a pro-military nonprofit argues in a new study.
The military has long bemoaned America's tubby youth, and the Council for a Strong America says Colorado is part of the problem, with more than 27 percent of the state's children categorized as overweight.
"Low levels of physical activity and the obesity epidemic are contributing to an unprecedented readiness problem for our armed forces," the nonprofit said.
Those extra candy bars compound a complex problem for military recruiting. Between other health issues, criminal records and other troubles from facial tattoos to drug habits, a full 70 percent of Colorado teens are ineligible for military service.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance McWilliams said extra pounds are of special concern because weight can cost lives on the battlefield.
A grader for the new Army Physical Readiness Test ensures that a paratrooper completes the new 60-second pushup event correctly Aug. 10, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.CU.S. Army photo
"It gets extremely dangerous when you can't keep up with the rest of the pack," said McWilliams, the former top enlisted soldier at Fort Carson. "You are putting your fellow comrades at greater risk."
Strong America's lament might sound familiar. The nonprofit has been citing the issue for years as a danger to America's national security.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 17 percent of America's kids are overweight. But the military has a tougher standard. A 6-foot teenage recruit is expected to weigh less than 184 pounds by military standards, when most medical charts would let him have 12 more pounds of cheeseburgers.
M. Michael Cooke, Strong America's state director, said the nonprofit sees the goal of slimmer kids as more than a military imperative.
"It does render those kids unfit to fight but there are many other reasons to combat childhood obesity," she said.
Cooke said fat children face health challenges for a lifetime, costing society.
But as the Army aims to bring in 80,000 recruits in the next year, having too many obese teens is troubling for the military.
In a news release, Army Recruiting Command's Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow said it met 2017 targets by bringing in 69,000 recruits, but hitting the goal came at a cost.
The 920th Rescue Wing (RQW) hosted 38 members of the University of Florida's swim team at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 4, 2013.U.S. Air Force photo
"The command achieved its mission by the use of enlistment bonuses for as much as $40,000, with an average bonus of $12,800 for 33,000 recipients to attract the best-quality candidates for service," the command said.
To help the military get more fit recruits, Strong America wants state-mandated physical education classes in public schools, more bicycle lanes and boosts to programs that provide healthy food to the poor.
Cooke said while Colorado is known for having the leanest adult population in America, that hasn't translated to thinner kids.
"We are one of three states in the nation that doesn't mandate physical education," she said.
Strong America is broken into several wings, aimed at fighting crime, boosting the military and keeping children in school. The charity, backed by nonprofit giants including the Gates Foundation, plans on taking the obesity issue to the Colorado General Assembly next year.
Cooke said she hopes to push lawmakers into policies that lead to healthier kids. Most of what the group wants, she said, can be accomplished for little tax money.
"It remains an important message and we haven't solved the problem," Cooke said.
Retired Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, who headed U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, said the nonprofit is on the right track. He said families have a big role to play, too.
Renuart said parents need to turn off the television and send kids outside more. They also need to keep an eye on what their kids eat, he said.
"It requires parents be participants and leaders in their children's activity and eating lifestyles," Renuart said.
Another option remains for the military: Allowing more fat recruits into the ranks.
McWilliams said that would be a dangerous move.
"When you have people who aren't physically fit, it degrades the accomplishment of the mission."
The Army tried easing standards at the height of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including allowing heavier troops.
McWilliams said that caused a nightmare for commanders preparing their units for combat overseas.
"When you do introduce that rigorous physical activity to some of them, that's when you discover the serious health issues that went undiagnosed," he said.
The whole problem of military readiness, though, shares a common thread Cooke asserts.
"You need to make an investment in children in their younger years."
©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
‘We constantly have them on our minds’ — A little-known agency searches all over for the remains of MIA service members
The 80-minute ride each day to the site in Lang Son Province, Vietnam, through mostly unspoiled forestland and fields, reminded Air Force Master Sgt. Aliah Reyes a little of her hometown back in Maine.
The Eliot native recently returned from a 45-day mission to the Southeast Asian country, where she was part of a team conducting a search for a Vietnam War service member who went missing more than 45 years ago and is presumed dead.
Reyes, 38, enlisted in the Air Force out of high school and has spent more than half her life in military service. But she had never been a part of anything like this.
A U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicle burst into flames on the side of a Polish roadway on Saturday, the Army confirmed on Monday.
A memo circulating over the weekend warning of a "possible imminent attack" against U.S. soldiers in Germany was investigated by Army officials, who found there to not be a serious threat after all.
The U.S. Navy will name its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after Doris Miller, an iconic World War II sailor recognized for his heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack, according to reports in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and U.S. Naval Institute News.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is expected to announce the naming of CVN-81 during a ceremony on Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to USNI. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be there, according to the Star-Advertiser.
Comedian Jon Stewart has joined forces with veterans groups to make sure service members who have been sickened by toxins from burn pits get the medical care they need, according to the Military Officers Association of America.
"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."