Soldier loses 114 Pounds to join ranks
April 25, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (April 25, 2012) -- His face was a shade redder, his brow seemed moist and he looked a bit uneasy.
Second Lt. Jonathan S. Leigh had just become lst Lt. Leigh in a promotion ceremony that took place April 19 at the Ordnance School' s Hatcher Hall.
Were his discomforts due to the jitters many feel when they move up to the next rank?
Was it the presence of Maj. Gen. Ricky Adams who decided the promotion was important enough to warrant his time?
Perhaps, Leigh came to the sudden realization that he had achieved a milestone on a journey fraught with diligence and hard work.
"This is a paid vacation for me," he said with relief and a sense of gratitude after the formalities."My commander chose me and trusted me to come here and receive the training …"
Leigh is a 43-year-old prior-service enlisted Soldier currently enrolled in the 11-week Explosive Ordnance Disposal Course Phase 1. When he finishes the 38-week Phase II of the course at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., he will return to his Army National Guard unit in Arizona as "one of two EOD officers" in the state, he said.
Several years ago, Leigh, who ended his first stint with the Army in 1997, had begun thinking about returning to the service, especially since the start of the wars in Southwest Asia.
"When I watched the videos of our Soldiers going to Iraq and Afghanistan and coming back, I knew I had trained to be there with them," said the former Scout helicopter repairer. "I got tired of watching (it) on TV. I thought that I should be there. I'm supposed to be there. I knew that I had to do whatever it takes to get back in."
It was 2009 and there was only one problem with his aspirations: he weighted 380 pounds and was seriously out of shape.
Undoubtedly, it was a mountainous challenge for the 6-foot-3-inch Brigham Young graduate. He would have to bear down and carefully consider everything he put in his mouth and make every exercise repetition count to get under the weight limit.
"I figured out how much weight I had to lose, how many calories a day I could consume, how many calories per day I needed to burn through exercise, wrote that down and figured out on a week-by-week basis how many pounds I had to lose," said Leigh.
The plan was brutal, especially from an exercise standpoint. Leigh said in an email that he biked more than 6,700 miles in a three-year period, roughly the distance to Arizona and back.
"In the end, I was exercising more than was healthy, more than four or five hours a day," he said. "I don't recommend it to people because it puts a lot of wear and tear on your body."
Not only fighting to lose weight, Leigh was also in a skirmish with time.
"The maximum conditioning age in the National Guard is 42," he said. "I had to be done with OCS and swear my oath of office before my 42nd birthday."
In early 2010, Leigh passed a commissioning physical at the Military Entrance Processing Station and went on to attend the accelerated National Guard OCS in the summer of the same year. He was commissioned a few months later.
"When I was sworn in as a second lieutenant, I was 41 years and nine and a half months," said Leigh. "I actually had graduated from the last OCS class in the National Guard that would finish before I turned 42 so there was no time to spare. It was a one-shot deal."
Leigh made that shot count. He had eaten and exercised his way to losing 114 pounds, and perhaps more noteworthy, completed the accelerated OCS program as a middle-ager.
"It was harder to get through OCS at 41 than it was to lose 114 pounds in six and a half months," he said.
Col. Gregg Goldsmith, assistant chief of staff, ANG, Combined Arms Support Command, said he was no less impressed with Leigh's perseverance and spoke to him directly when he said, "Your attitude will carry you a lot further than you think," noting Leigh's recent successes and future aspirations.
Adams, the deputy commanding general, Army National Guard, Training and Doctrine Command, also addressed the subject of attitude, saying that it is often a deciding factor.
"You can kick rocks and get down about everything that's happened to you in life, but there are people who pick themselves up, blow that stuff off, move on and keep their eyes on the prize. They're the ones that wind up being successful," he said.
Leigh acknowledged the achievements but noted there are a number of milestones that remain. One is tweaking his diet so that he doesn't regain the weight. He concedes, however, that there is a sweetness to wearing the uniform, and however discomforting his journey may have been, he could take comfort in the realization that he has membership in a special institution.
"I'm part of something now," Leigh said. "When I was a civilian and watching (the war) on TV, I was an individual. When I swore to the oath of enlistment to go to OCS and swore to that oath of office as a second lieutenant, I was part of something that is out there in the world doing something. That means everything to me."