The Washington Post reports that large numbers of obese soldiers are being sacked for failing to pass fitness tests. Inasmuch as soldiers are expected to maintain a high level of conditioning for physically challenging duties, this policy does not seem unreasonable. It does, however, raise questions and a few objections, including how were the soldiers being sacked allowed to grow fat in the first place? Presumably, the obese Army folks kept getting one more chance, time after time, after failing to pass muster during annual testing protocols.
I’ll summarize the facts of the matter and then offer a REAL wellness alternative. I think there’s a better way to deal with obese soldiers than firing them and letting them go into the cold, without a special opportunity of a positive nature. My solution avoids humiliations and economic hardships. All service personnel found to be unfit for duty should be afforded a special chance to meet Army performance standards. An effective program that makes this possible will be more humane than dismissals and save the considerable cost to taxpayers associated with recruiting and retraining replacements. I’ll outline a positive REAL wellness boot camp idea that could enable on-their-way-out troops to re-qualify for duty.
Why the Sacking?
One reason for the sacking of obese soldiers is financial. The Army has to cut back, reduce its budget by downsizing from 570,000 today to 490,000 by 2017. If cuts have to be made, what better place to start than with the weakest links, the heart attack cases waiting to happen? Did you know that of all the reasons for rejection of recruits, the number one factor is obesity? In the Washington Post story, overweight troops are looked upon as a national security issue. The severity of the problem is growing. In a two-year period, the number of obese soldiers tripled! Two years ago, over five percent of the Army, 86,183 members of our fighting force, was obese.
How are we going to be the police force for the whole world if so many of our invaders are so out of shape? As of November this year, “1,625 soldiers were dismissed for being out of shape.” This is nearly 16 times the number discharged for that reason in 2007. (Source: Ernesto Londoño, Rising number of soldiers being dismissed for failing fitness tests, Washington Post, December 10, 2012.)
The first big reductions of morbidly obese soldiers occurred after Desert Storm. In 1991, a little over 3000 troops were let go. It’s worth noting that not only uniform personnel are affected by the obesity factor: no less than seventy-five percent of civilians who wanted to join the force were weight-related ineligible. In addition, a quarter of those who did qualify on BMI assessments could not pass the fitness requirements, according to the Post report.
How pathetic is that?
REAL WELLNESS BOOT CAMP
The REAL wellness curriculum design would require a period of research and evaluation by military brass with the involvement of a range of health promotion advisers. My hope is that, unlike worksite wellness programs at the corporate level, there would be little to no risk reduction or medical management-there are VA and other resources available for these services. REAL Wellness Boot Camp would focus on the four foundation areas, addressing all kinds of life-enriching topics such as value studies, meaning and purpose, change theory and practice, resilience, mindfulness, relationship and communication skills and the like.
Even if the obese Army folks facing the boot do not lose enough weight to return to duty or simply choose not to return after graduating from wellness boot camp, the experience will still be of inestimable value. It will assist troops to deal with the usual transition issues. These include problems associated with depression, post-traumatic stress and a range of life changes that occur during long periods of separation from family, the job market and civilian society. If the idea caught on with the military, why stop there? How about modified versions of REAL Wellness Boot Camp for juvenile offenders, drunk drivers, couples in crisis and so on?
As for the military version created to deal with outgoing obese soldiers at the enhanced and ever-so civilized boot camps, I’ll volunteer to design the initial program and participate in all the physical endurance training activities. But with a few conditions – no jumping out of airplanes or required obstacle courses with explosions and real bullets flying overhead. Let’s keep the fitness focus on swimming, biking, running and other sensible, peaceful stuff.
Good wishes and be well.