FORT SILL, Okla. (Army News Service, Dec. 3, 2008) -- Thousands of Soldiers, school children, family members and civilians gathered at Fort Sill's Polo Field Nov. 25 for the kick-off walk of the CG's Challenge - Western Miles program.

Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel, commanding general of Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence, spoke to the multitude before leading the walk and reiterated his belief in the importance of a fit and healthy lifestyle for the entire community, including the 18 surrounding school districts.

Vangjel said in his travels he started reading magazine articles that showed that about one-third of today's children border on obesity and are at risk to develop cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer due to lack of exercise and poor eating habits.

CG, doctor team up

Vangjel teamed up with Dr. Ben Cooper, a doctor with Comanche County Memorial Hospital and the main proponent for the Southwest Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition, to reintroduce fitness and healthy eating back into the daily lives of students and families. Cooper has often been quoted as saying today's school-age children are the first generation not expected to outlive their parents due to diseases linked to obesity.

"That's when I realized this isn't just about Soldiers," said Vangjel. "It's about our kids, and it's about our families."

'Child obesity a security risk'

Vangjel said if America raises a generation of children who aren't fit to fight, it could potentially be a security risk.

"That's why Fort Sill has teamed up with the Fit Kids Coalition in an effort to make Oklahoma the fittest state in the United States.

Vangjel said he kicked off the challenge now because he realizes the challenges that families face during the holidays.

Cope with stress, enable fitness

"I know that all families are dealing with stress about the holidays and the economy, but military families also face the added stress of deployment," he said. "What we have found out is that being physically fit is an enabler. It better enables us to cope with stress."

Fort Sill expected around 5,000 walkers for the kick-off event, but Vangjel estimated the crowd on post as closer to 6,000 walkers. An estimated 12,000 to 13,000 school children from across the 18 area school districts also walked at their locations.

After the brief ceremony, the walkers filed out of Fort Sill's Polo Field and filled all five lanes on Sheridan Road for several blocks.

Vangjel led the walkers under a banner stretched across the road with the assistance of two ladder fire trucks from Lawton and Fort Sill. The crowd split down the middle at the intersection of Fort Sill Boulevard and Sheridan Road with runners turning to the right to run back along the howitzer trail alongside Sheridan Road and walkers turning left on Fort Sill Boulevard to make their way back to the Polo Field.

The CG's Challenge has received endorsements from many community leaders including Kim Henry, first lady of Oklahoma; nationally recognized light-middleweight boxer and local resident Grady Brewer; former Miss America Lauren Nelson; and reigning Miss Lawton, Sarah Jensen. Henry endorsed the challenge and urged everyone in the community "to commit to get fit."

Area leaders united

As part of Fort Sill's commitment to healthy lifestyles, the Army Community Covenant introduced "The Fit Kids Coalition" as one of the initiatives of the covenant. The coalition -- which started in October 2005 after the community learned the startling fact that today's children were at risk because of obesity -- consists of local leaders from area schools, the hospital, the health department and Fort Sill in an effort to encourage the entire community to get fit and stay healthy.

Vangjel said the Western Miles Challenge is an ongoing challenge to all Soldiers, families, civilians and children to get out and get physically active by running or walking. Vangjel's goal is to have the all those who take up the challenge cumulatively walk the equivalent of going to the moon and back, or about 450,000 miles.

As part of the challenge, Vangjel will recognize children 16 years and below that walk or run 100 miles. He will also recognize individuals that walk or run 300, 600, or 1,000 miles. Families that have an accumulative 1,200 miles of walking or running will also be recognized by the commanding general at a quarterly event.
According to Vangjel, there will be another CG's Challenge - Western Miles Walk in the spring.

(Monica Wood Hill writes for the Fort Sill Cannoneer newspaper.)