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Marcus Robinson wanted to follow the brother he had worshiped in military life. He also needed the benefit of the military to help pay for college tuition. “I had to do it because I didn’t want my parents to worry about school fees,” the 18-year-old said.
But last year – in his senior year of high school, Robinson lost 240 pounds, making him too heavy to meet U.S. military exercise standards.
“I’ll look at my pictures and I’ll be upset,” Robinson said. Trying to lose weight by himself has not worked out, his life, an outbreak at home and working over the summer at an ice cream parlor added another pound.
An increasing number of young people are faced with the same problem. In all parts of the military, 31 percent of young people 17 to 24 years old are unable to enlist because of their overweight, according to the Department of Defense. The Armed Forces, the military’s largest branch, needs to recruit about 130,000 people annually to perform their missions, so it faces the recruiting challenges faced by childhood obesity.
In response about a decade ago, individual recruiters across the country began identifying and working with potential recruits who had to pay tens of pounds or more to qualify for military service. It is not part of an officially sponsored project. Many recruiters remember just how imperative they were to mentor individuals on how to lose weight in order to achieve their military enlistment goals.
Retired Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, who served 35 years in the Army and is a member of Mission Readiness, a non-profit group focused on Preparing young people to serve “That’s what our brokers across the country are dealing with.”
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The military was also heavily recruited by southern states for a long time, with obesity rates rising.
Frost said the rising childhood obesity rates in the United States are also a concern for top military brass, most of which focus on supporting preventive programs such as advocating food subsidies. To low-income families to have basic nutrition, etc.
But dealing with obesity in older children and adolescents is difficult. Many of the factors that put this are beyond the control of the broker, such as low family income or little access to healthy food. Those problems only escalated during the epidemic.
All of these issues raise concerns about the sustainability of the country’s military, Frost notes. “In a generation or two this will pose a potential threat to our country,” he said.
Powerful forces such as food insecurity and how cheap, high-calorie junk food are heavily marketed to add to the challenge, another retired general, Jeffrey Snow, who Was a recruiting leader for the army and military reserves until three years ago. In his military days, Snow said he often talked about the importance of obesity prevention and mitigation in and out of the military.
“It’s a terrible problem,” he said, adding that he spent years working on it. “Speaking yourself in blue to your face,” but it was not very successful. “I cannot tell you how much I am affected by this problem.”
But the recruiter’s grassroots efforts can make a difference, Snow said, for those individuals who can lose enough weight to meet military standards – the amount he expects to be about 1,000 to 2,000 per year.
“For those young men and women who can join in, I can tell you it changed their lives,” he said.
That was the case with Marcus Robinson recruiting, who began appearing at the Army Recruitment Office in Waldorf, Md., To exercise weekly in an outside car park.
On Wednesday, Robinson appeared one day with a water bottle and wearing a high school jersey and jersey. He and about 15 other participants soon found themselves sweating through a 90-minute workout that involved doing squats, pushups, and repetitions.
Every week before these exercises, Robinson steps on the scales and measures his neck and waist.
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The first time he did it last year, he said he had lost 10 inches of his waistline. “It’s a lot,” Robinson said. “Every time I come in, I like it. ‘Hey, measure me?’ ” And in the past few months, that number has begun to drop.
It is a constant battle.
“Eating is a psychological challenge,” Robinson said. Many things test his intentions, such as comparing himself to a guy whose abs or too tired to exercise. Sometimes he calls for food from lean meats and vegetables. But he remains in close contact with Staff Sgt. Stephen Ahlstrom, aide who serves as Robinson’s backstop.
“One Wednesday he wasn’t doing a drama either and it was because of his food,” Ahlstrom said.
Robinson recalled the incident: “I was late and was talking to him how I felt, and he brought me back.”
Ahlstrom gets Robinson back on track by reminding him of the peculiarities of better health: Drink gallons of water a day, avoid fast food that needs to be driven through, exercise regularly. Indulge in junk food as a reward for eating lighter meals for the rest of the day, Ahlstrom says, he says he personally spends most of the week waiting for the double cheeseburger he allows himself the night. Friday
“Saturday night was my cheat day,” Robinson said. But, he said, eating healthy foods change the taste of food. “When you start drinking soda, it tastes disgusting.”
Teaching personal change at this level is hard work, once again considering this is not a formal Army program and success cannot be guaranteed. For example, Ahlstrom sometimes picks up potential recruits at home and pushes them to the gym.
“It’s hard because your mind is quitting before your body does,” Ahlstrom says, so keeping the motivation of those he mentors is important. For some, it may take years for them to lose weight. And he knows that some people will quit school.
But there are inspirational examples of success. For example, last year Ahlstrom helped another young man lose 100 pounds to successfully recruit in the military. He said Robinson showed the same level of commitment to hard work.
By March of this year, Robinson lost 65 pounds.He was finally able to recruit and begin his Army basic training this month.
“We’ve done it, we’ve come here,” Robinson said, smiling victorious as Ahlstrom looked at him with a nod.