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Overweight Youth Pose Recruitment Challenges

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2009 – Fat is bad for your health. And as defense officials attest, it’s also bad for recruiting -- and for national defense.

Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon’s accessions chief, lamented during a congressional hearing this week that many recruitment-age youth are too overweight to qualify for military service.

“We have a crisis in this country,” Gilroy said during a March 3 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee. He cited obesity among other shortcomings such as physical fitness deficiencies and lack of a high school diploma that disqualify about three-quarters of 17-to-24-year-olds from serving.

A couch-potato lifestyle and fast-food appetite has fattened up America’s youth in a big way. Studies say one in five Americans ages 18 to 34 – the prime recruiting age -- is obese. That’s forced recruiters to turn away many applicants who don’t meet military weight standards.

Almost 48,000 potential recruits flunked those standards during physicals at military entrance processing stations since fiscal 2005, officials said. And that number doesn’t take into account potential recruits who never get that far because their recruiters screen them out, or who never go to a recruiter in the first place because they know they’re overweight.

The military ranks are filled with notable exceptions. Leo Knight-Inglesby, for example, dropped more than 160 pounds – going from 351 to 190 pounds – to join the Air Force in December.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Allan Desruisseaux lost more than 100 pounds after initially being turned away by recruiters at Recruiting Substation Chandler, Ariz., at a hulking 326 pounds. Ultimately, he graduated from Marine Corps recruit training at 189 pounds.

But officials express concern that these success stories are the exception and not the rule, and that the overweight youth population will continue to challenge recruiting efforts.

Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, who heads the Army Recruiting Command, has predicted that obesity will become the single biggest roadblock that keeps young people who want to join the military from serving.

Bostick went so far as to propose a formal program to help would-be soldiers lose weight and get in shape so they can enlist.

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