First Lady Michelle Obama Visits Fort Jackson
By Susanne Kappler
Fort Jackson Public Affairs Office
FORT JACKSON, S.C., Jan. 27, 2011 First Lady Michelle Obama paid a visit here today to learn from Army leaders about how childhood obesity and physical inactivity affects military readiness and what the Army does to combat these effects.
Army Pvt. Rudolph Buchanan, a recruit in Basic Combat Training with the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, talks with First Lady Michelle Obama during her Jan. 27, 2011, visit to Fort Jackson, S.C. U.S. Army photo by Susanne Kappler
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The first lady's first stop was the Drill Sergeant School, where she was briefed by Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s initial military training, and the command’s health and fitness programs. Obama founded the Let's Move campaign, which focuses on overcoming the challenge of childhood obesity.
Before the briefing, Obama said she was excited to learn how the military deals with those challenges.
"The military can model so many wonderful solutions," Obama said. "And I am excited about making the rest of the country aware of not just the challenges we face, but the work you do to get these young recruits and trainees back on track, because a lot of people around the country could use the same kind of support."
Hertling said that 75 percent of America's youth are ineligible to join the military for a variety of reasons. Out of those ineligible, 17 percent are disqualified because of obesity.
He outlined the problems obesity creates in recruiting new soldiers and the challenges physically unfit recruits face during basic training.
"Our challenge is to fix it quickly," Hertling emphasized.
Last August, the Army introduced new physical training guidance, which aims to improve physical conditioning while reducing the risk of injury. In addition, the Army has started the soldier fueling initiative, which emphasizes healthful nutrition habits for soldiers.
Hertling told Obama the new program has been effective.
"What we're seeing is, the choices of the soldiers are changing in basic training and they're feeling better, and we get a lower attrition rate," Hertling said.
Obama observed the results of the nutrition initiative first hand, when she visited the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment's dining facility. As part of the program, dining facilities changed their menus with a focus on performance-focused menu items and healthful beverage options. In addition, a new labeling system at the dining facilities helps soldiers identify optimal food choices.
Obama also met with drill sergeants and soldiers before speaking at the graduation of 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, on Hilton Field.
"I'm especially thrilled [to be] with the extraordinary men and women who are graduating today," Obama told the audience. "On behalf of myself and my husband and a grateful nation, I want to start off today by saying congratulations on all that you've achieved, and, of course, 'Hooah!'"
Obama also praised Army initiatives that ensure new soldiers are physically fit to serve.
"You've learned something that is also near and dear to my heart -- and I know that some of the moms here would probably agree with me on this one -- through the new Fueling the Soldier initiative here at Fort Jackson, you learned how to make better choices about what you eat," she said.
The first lady also praised the families of friends of the graduating soldiers for encouraging their loved ones to serve.
"Thank you for holding these men and women tight for all those years, but most of all, thank you for letting them go, so that they can serve this country and protect and defend this great nation that we all love," Obama told the families. "In these soldiers -- your sons and daughters, your spouses, siblings and parents -- we see the very best America has to offer.”