By Maj. Gen. James M. MilanoFebruary 3, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- It's quite an honor when Fort Jackson gets a visit from the first lady. Last Thursday's appearance by First Lady Michelle Obama is only the second time that a first lady has made a special trip to Fort Jackson in the post's existence, which dates back almost a century.
Laura Bush, the wife of former President George W. Bush, visited us back in 2001. Last week, we were extremely honored not only to have had the opportunity to host Obama at a Basic Combat Training graduation, but she also visited one of our dining facilities.
Obama is deeply committed to several topics that we consider vital to the national interest. Her Childhood Obesity Action Plan and her "Let's Move!" anti-obesity campaign address the increasing levels of obesity in our youth coupled with a decrease in their overall physical activity, as well as a general lack of good nutrition in their diets.
Poor nutrition and obesity in our young Americans are issues that Army leaders take very seriously, and we deal with them daily here among our population of volunteers whom we are turning into Soldiers. The bottom line is these issues affect military readiness.
During Obama's tour of the post, she had the opportunity to learn about Fort Jackson's "Go for Green" dining program, which promotes healthy choices and charts the direction we are taking.
My boss, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the deputy commanding general for Initial Military Training, has repeatedly emphasized that obesity in young people has challenged the Army in a number of ways, to include undertaking steps to reduce the number of Soldiers whose weight makes them unfit to serve.
On a strong, proactive note, the Army currently finds itself in the midst of the first major overhaul of new Soldiers' diets in decades. Milk and juice are replacing soft drinks, while whole-grain breads and pasta are being promoted rather than simpler carbohydrates. Food labels are now color-coded, reflecting their nutritional status - red, amber or green.
For the Army, a deeper focus on enhancing good nutrition comes on the heels of other modifications in BCT that are geared toward relevance for today's young Soldiers. Around this time last year, we began making some significant changes in our Physical Readiness Training programs, which now promote a more progressive approach to physical fitness.
We now use a system of physical training in phases, ensuring that Soldiers are physically prepared for anticipated combat missions and activities. Soldiers are strongly encouraged to work to maintain and improve their fitness levels when they leave here on the way to their new duty stations. All of this occurred because the Army needed to change the way it was meeting these new challenges.
We hope to see more changes regarding poor childhood nutrition, obesity and other related problems that the first lady has targeted in her initiatives. With her "Let's Move!" campaign, Obama two years ago set out to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation. In the past 25 years, childhood obesity rates across the United States have nearly tripled, and one in every three children is overweight.
One-third of all children born in the year 2000 or later will likely deal with diabetes in their lives. In the 17- to 24-year-old age group, 76.2 percent of Americans cannot qualify to get into the Army, for a variety of medical, moral and other issues, and 15 percent of that group cannot qualify due to weight issues. These are sobering statistics and the problem appears to be getting worse, rather than better. As you can see, this truly is a national security issue.
Our Army will do its part. We plan to continue treating our Soldiers the same way a professional sports team or collegiate athletic program treats its athletes - controlling what they eat, progressive, challenging physical training and providing them access to athletic trainers to ensure optimal performance. What's more, this approach is not only applicable to our Soldiers, it's beneficial to all Americans - so, get moving and eat right!
Army Strong and Victory Starts Here!