Army cracking down on overweight soldiers in face of budget cuts
Faced with a $37 billion budget shortfall and a significant reduction in troops, the Army is “trimming the fat” by reinstating a program that sends home soldiers who fail to meet body-fat standards, Fort Gordon officials said this week.
The Pentagon revised its body-fat regulations last month in an attempt to “return to the basics” and build a “leaner and meaner force” that includes only soldiers in peak physical condition, said Master Sgt. Christopher Wallace, the training coordinator for the Signal Corps’ Regimental Noncommissioned Officer Academy.
Though height and weight requirements remain unchanged, the Body Composition Program gives commanders the power to flag overweight soldiers and require them to see a dietician, develop an action plan and go through monthly assessments.
The Army was more lenient when soldiers were needed in Afghanistan and Iraq, Wallace said, and overseas command stations did not provide adequate space for troops to exercise.
Now, the Army wants “top-notch recruits who meet and beat the standard, instead of just barely making it,” Wallace said.
First Sgt. Roberto Berry, the head of the NCO Academy at Fort Gordon, said the Army began phasing in changes in November. Looming ahead were sequestration, which left a $37 billion hole in the Defense Department’s budget, and news that troop levels would be cut by 80,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2017.
Within the first two months of the policy shift, eight to 10 soldiers sent to Fort Gordon for signal training initially failed the Army’s physical fitness test, Berry said. Many came within 1 percentage point of meeting body-fat requirements or within five seconds of passing the Army’s 2-mile run, records showed.
Under the Army’s new regulation, Berry said, trainees are sent to a doctor to confirm whether they have allergies or conditions that might prevent weight loss. They are then given a second chance in one to two weeks to meet the body-fat standards and pass the physical fitness test.
“If they are good to go, the training course continues,” Berry said. “If they’re not, they are sent home.”
Back at the home station, the commander who approved the soldier for training has three days to flag a soldier exceeding body fat standards and then two working days to notify and enroll the soldier in the Army Body Composition Program, new rules state.
A soldier who is flagged is not promotable, will not be assigned to command positions and is not authorized to attend military schools or institutional training courses. Within two weeks of enrollment, the soldier must schedule an appointment with a dietician or health care provider and develop an action plan. Monthly assessments will follow, in which soldiers will be expected to lose 3 to 8 pounds or 1 percentage point of body fat each month.
A soldier who doesn’t meet that goal will be shown the door.
From 1990-96, soldiers who did not meet the Army’s body-fat standards were immediately discharged.
Now, soldiers have 180 days from time of entry to meet standards.
Soldiers who are pregnant, have a major limb loss or are have undergone prolonged hospital stays are exempt. Those with a validated temporary medical condition that directly causes weight gain or prevents body fat loss will have six months to resolve the issue.
A physician can extend the period to 12 months, granting a soldier temporary immunity for not showing progress.
Soldiers might be required to modify calorie intake when reduced physical activity is necessary. Dangerous weight-loss tactics, such as fasting, supplements, and vomiting, are prohibited.
Wallace said signal soldiers are still failing the initial test. The good news, he said, is that the number of marginal soldiers has shrunk to one a month.
Berry said he can easily see the Army returning to “one shot, one kill.”
“They want a leaner force, both physically and mentally,” Wallace said. “No longer are we just going to accept mediocre soldiers who get by. Soldiers need to be in compliance or they are going to be sent home.”