The Washington Post reported Dec. 10 that in the first 10 months of 2012, the Army booted 1,625 out-of-shape soldiers from the force, "about 15 times the number discharged for that reason in 2007."
Add the fact that the military plans to cut about 90,000 active duty troops by 2017, and the phrase "trim the fat" takes on a whole new meaning. The solution, of course, is for military personnel and Defense Department civilians alike to get off the sofa, put down that milkshake and get (back) into shape. The options are out there.
In 2012, the Army brought back its Master Fitness Training course that was discontinued in 2001. The course certifies Master Fitness Trainers, who serve as special advisers to unit commanders to ensure troops maintain training standards.
According to Stephanie Slater at the Army Initial Military Training Center of Excellence, pilot courses in 2012 validated "course design, program of instruction and lesson plans." This followed with a course in early 2013 that trained six mobile training teams composed of "military leads" and contractors from Anautics, a training solutions company. Starting in April, these teams will travel to Army installations around the globe to train additional fitness experts. The goal is to have 4,500 certified trainers spread among the various Army bases by the end of 2014, bringing additional fitness expertise directly to troops at the base level.
At the Pentagon, the Fit-to-Win program touches all branches of the service and provides help to civilian contractors, as well. These include educational testing, wellness classes, exercise prescription and even dietary counseling, according to Jonathan Gray, physical fitness specialist for the program (and former strength and conditioning coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars).
"A lot of times what we see here at the Pentagon are people who have been in the military for a substantial period of time - maybe they've been in 10, 15, 20 years," he says. "When you get transferred to somewhere like here, a lot of people have desk jobs, and maybe they're not exercising as much as they did when they were on a military base."
Access to the program is as simple as walking through the door. The first step is to stop by the Pentagon Fit-to-Win office in Corridor 8 and pick up a personal wellness profile. Pentagon contractors may also participate, but do not receive exercise testing or one-on-one dietary consultations, Gray says.
Of course, fitness challenges also impact new and potential recruits.
Fitness expert Stew Smith often tells young people, "Your physical condition in this profession - military, law enforcement, firefighting - is going to be the difference between you living or dying one day." A former Navy SEAL and author of The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness, Maximum Fitness, The Special Ops Workouts and SWAT Fitness, Smith says he has witnessed some disturbing trends over the past couple of decades.
He first saw it when he returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor in the mid-'90s. "I was shocked that when everybody took their first fitness test, about half of them wouldn't meet the minimum standards," he says. "And then, over the past decade and a half, I've noticed that it's the same at the FBI, the local firefighting academy, the police academy and West Point."
Today, through his books, online programs fitness clinics, Smith works with young people who want to serve their country but don't meet the height/weight standards to join.
The services themselves provide some remedial fitness for military hopefuls. The Navy's Recruit Training Command, for example, places recruits unable to pass their physical fitness assessment or swimming test into the Fitness Improvement Training program. In years past, the success rate for those who enter the program has exceeded 90 percent.
Remedial physical training can occur in an unofficial capacity, as well. It's as simple as deciding to get back into shape and start a personal workout program. From the Internet to programs initiated at the base level, it's a matter of action.
According to Smith, the military does a pretty good job of helping people transition into a fitness program, but it's always an uphill battle. "The military is a cross-section of today's society, and you have to be blind if you think that we're an in-shape nation," he says, noting that physical education for young people isn't even a priority in school anymore. But fitness importance for military personnel - those close to retirement as well as new recruits - is a reality, and the incentive to get in shape couldn't be bigger.
"The military may keep you if they need you," Smith says. "But if you look at a time right now where the military is downsizing, they're going to start having more teeth in the areas where they maybe didn't have much teeth 10 years ago."