A Military's Struggle: Soldier's too fat to fight

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The nation's military is struggling with a weight problem.

Finding young men and women who are interested in enlisting has never been an issue. But finding recruits who are physically qualified to serve, that is a problem.

Today, the majority of South Carolina's young adults are simply too fat to fight, and it's becoming a heavier burden on the armed forces every year.

The future of this great nation depends on a strong, fit, healthy defense force. And while the United States military stands ready to protect the American people against threats both domestic and abroad, the challenge of recruitment has hit a new roadblock - a problem so large, it could take a generation to fix it.

According to the advocacy group, mission readiness; made up of more than 100 retired generals, admirals and other senior military leaders, 75 percent of all young Americans ages 17 to 24, the prime recruitment age, are unfit for service because of school records, criminal records or, the single biggest reason, they're just too fat.

Retired General Jack Wheeler is one of the authors of a new report called, "Too Fat To Fight." He insists this weight problem will impact out military readiness.

"One year we missed our recruiting objective by over 7,000. And we said, 'oh gosh, the recruiter's not working hard enough.' Well come to find out, they were working hard enough. They had enough young volunteers coming to the door wanting to volunteer, but they failed to qualify."

Mission Readiness released its latest report with a simple message. If our kids continue on this sedentary path, of gaming from the couch instead of the field, of choosing all the wrong stuff at breakfast, lunch and in between, it will be impossible to maintain our current military, putting the nation's very defense at risk.

Locally, recruiters are seeing it too. Every branch has it's own health parameters.

Sgt. Robert Keiser is Myrtle Beach's Marine Corps recruiter. "I would say it's around a 60-40 split. You know, 60 percent come in who might have to lose or even gain a little bit of weight, 40 percent are within our height and weight standards."

You heard him. 60 percent turned away here in Myrtle Beach alone! According to that Mission Readiness report, a quarter of all young adults in America are obese, too fat to fight. And that number is increasing one percent a year.

But the problem doesn't stop at those turned away at the recruiter's office. Every year 1,200 first term enlistees are discharged because of weight problems. The cost of lost time and training replacements, $50,000 each for an obese total of $60 million tax dollars a year.

Carson Livers is a brand new Marine recruit from Little River. These numbers don't surprise him at all.

"Are people generally you think as physically active as they might have been 20 years ago? No! There's no question they're not. I think the culture that we live in today, you know, with all the fast food and all the hormones in all the different foods, it's really making it hard to find the cream of the crop that the military is looking for now."

There isn't a single branch of the military that isn't feeling the weight of this problem on its recruitment numbers. I showed the report to Army Sgt. Steward Whitman, a 16 year veteran recruiter here in Myrtle Beach. Whitman has traveled the country talking with potential soldiers, and says he's watched his pool of qualified recruits shrink.

"I would say right now, you know, seven to eight people that come in here for some reason or another are not qualified to join the Army."

"There's snack machines everywhere," admits Courtney Cullen. This 19-year-old knew her appearance would carry a lot of weight when it came time to enlist. but even she admits temptation was working against her.

"I think it's just because it's what's there. It's cheap, we just put a dollar in the machine so, it's so easy to be unhealthy."

In fact; the Mission Readiness report points a very large finger at your child's school. It's high calorie, low nutrition foods, it's de-emphasis on physical fitness, its lack of meaningful intervention programs.

Half this "To Fat To Fight" report focuses on our schools. They along with the CDC believe schools could save the day and perhaps at the end of the day save our national security.

The Mission Readiness report is asking that all junk foods be removed from our local schools and that more money be poured into funding school lunch programs.

Authors say if the Palmetto State claims it doesn't have the money, consider that South Carolina already spends more than a billion dollars a year on health issues related to obesity.

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