FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- At 5'10" and 283 pounds, David West II knew his childhood dream of being a Soldier was out of reach -- but nine months ago he made the commitment to get healthy. After losing more than 100 pounds, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Jan. 31, during a ceremony at the St. Louis Military Entrance Processing Station.

"I was really determined to do it," West said. "It's a dream come true. I feel like I am doing the right thing."

The 20-year-old from Plato, Mo., said his journey to health began after a friend teased him.

"I said I was going to lose weight and join the military many times, but I never did it. Then, my friend called me out on it. The next day I decided to lose weight," West said. "The last thing I ate that day was a hamburger and some fries -- a really nice dinner. Then, the next day I was eating a turkey burger."

Getting his diet and exercise plan rolling was the most challenging thing for West.

"The first week was the hardest. The first week I walked four miles every day. Then, after I got used to walking, I started P90X (an at-home workout program) every day. I couldn't do everything, but they say 'do your best and forget the rest.' I modified it until I could do it," West said. "I drank a lot of water, and now I eat three to four small meals a day."

At 5'10", the U.S. Army authorizes a maximum weight of 189 pounds or 26 percent body fat to enlist. After shedding 73 pounds, West visited MEPS for the first time in November 2011.

"When I went to MEPS the first time, I weighed 210 pounds. I knew I wasn't going to make the weight standard, but I was hoping to make good on my Body Mass Index. But my measurement was off from all the extra skin I had," West said. "When I realized I had to lose more weight, I didn't think it was possible."

Staff Sgt. Shawndelin Hall, St. Robert Army Recruiting Station commander, said her team saw the steady progression West was making and they knew he had what it took to reach his goal weight.

"We didn't let him quit; we continually encouraged him," Hall said.

As for West, eating healthy food and exercising had already become second nature, so reaching his target weight was just a few months away.

"It's a habit; I don't even realize I'm doing it," West said. "Here I am at 170 pounds. I have lost 113 pounds."

Many people don't recognize him in his newly slimmer frame -- even his own family.

"Christmas was interesting, because no one in my family had seen me since I lost the weight. We went back home; my grandmother didn't recognize me. It felt good," West said. "I see friends from high school at the gym; they don't even recognize me. Then, they see my tattoo and know who I am."

West said watching as his dad served as a Soldier founded his desire to join the Army.

"It's just something that been in my heart forever. I can't explain it," West said. "My dad is the strongest person I know. I couldn't really think of anything better than to do what he did."

On May 14, West will enter boot camp on Fort Leonard Wood, following in his father's footsteps as a combat engineer.

David West II's father, David West, works on post. He said Fort Leonard Wood holds a special place in their family's history.

"I turned 21 here in 1985, during basic training. He will turn 21 here during his Advanced Individual Training. It's really neat," he said.

West's father isn't surprised by his son's determination to join the Army.

"He has always been pro-America and pro-military. I am really proud of him for that. I have always told my kids, 'I am not going to push you to it, and I am not going to push you away from it.' I am really proud of him," West's father said. "When he asked me if I thought he could do it, I told him he could do anything he put his mind to. He has always been motivated with anything he wanted to do."

Hall believes the younger West's determination and strong heart will make him an impeccable Soldier.

"West already embodies the Army value of personal courage, and he demonstrated the 'I will never quit and never accept defeat' elements of the Warrior Ethos," Hall said. "West has a heart for people and he has a heart for the Army. That's the kind of Soldier you want in your foxhole with you."

West's next hurdle is Basic Combat Training. He plans to tailor his exercise formula around the Army Physical Fitness Test.

"I still have my worries. When I was bigger, there were a lot of things I couldn't do. The APFT is running, push-ups and sit-ups. I am not worried about the sit-ups or push-ups, but I am worried about running. Big people don't run. I have only been running for the past two months," West said. "I go to the gym and I'm working my body into that."

Through all of the changes West encountered last year, he feels there is one thing that has stayed the same -- his character.

"I feel like the same person; I just have more self-confidence. I am still me, I just eat a lot differently now," West said. "For me, the only job is joining the military."

Page last updated Wed February 22nd, 2012 at 00:00