Too Fat to Fight

It is widely claimed that childhood obesity is a threat to national security.

In a recent op-ed retired U.S. Army generals John M. Shalikashvili and Hugh Shelton, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sounded the panic button on what has been declared as an obesity epidemic.

According to a five-year-old study by the Army Center for Accessions Research, 73 percent of 17-24-year-old Americans do not meet the minimum requirements for military service, This group is falling short because they have not graduated from high school, have engaged in criminal activity, are physically or mentally unfit or a combination of these challenges. The generals say these figures remain unchanged.

More than 120 senior retired officers and top enlisted leaders have signed on to the executive council of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Mission: Readiness (Military Leaders for Kids) to tackle this obesity surge, the dropout rate and kids behind bars.

So the idea here is if the targeted 17-24 year olds do not meet the physical, educational or moral standards for military enlistment, the ranks will dwindle. Ergo: This is a threat to national security.

The Chicken Little approach seems a bit of a stretch, but may prove a boon to the civilian Mission: Readiness foundation. Its mission states, “Maintaining the strength of our military and our nation will depend on new generations who are willing and able to serve our country with courage, compassion and sacrifice.” (But White House signing ceremonies seem their brass ring.)

Mission: Readiness is about childhood development; its military executive committee is targeting the future of the armed forces. This strange-bedfellows arrangement may still benefit all parties. In an interview with the organization’s leaders, recent childhood nutrition legislation was deemed a milestone, though it may take years to positively impact the recruiter on the street.

Recruiters are not patient people and have devised work-arounds. Prospects who do not meet weight standards sometimes lose those extra pounds with recruiter involvement. Non-high school grads obtain GEDs (accepted in limited quantities by some services) or are involved with service-specific programs (Army) to get that equivalency and ship to boot camp. Criminal record? Infractions can be waived. However, the decline in propensity to enlist noted in the same report may be more of a challenge.

Mission: Readiness has pushed the national security panic button to get attention from lawmakers. They have packaged a great story. Their approach is solid as is their marriage-of-convenience with the stars.

We wish them well, but will not be fooled. Improving the pool of military applicants is not their goal, but it is a possible residual effect.

Recent Posts