Friday, January 28, 2011

The Army As A Model For America: At Fort Jackson, Michelle Obama Touts Healthy Eating

Let's Move Stars & Stripes: During a visit to the Army's largest training post, First Lady lauds efforts to combat obesity. "It's not just a health issue for children, it's a national security issue," First Lady says...
First Lady Michelle Obama's visit on Thursday to Fort Jackson, America's largest Army training post, located near Columbia, South Carolina, brought together the two projects that are her key initiatives as First Lady: The Let's Move! campaign and supporting members of the military. As Mrs. Obama was briefed on Army efforts to address the overwhelming number of young overweight and obese recruits, she publicly worried that national security is at stake.

"You have to get the whole country behind this because it's affecting our ability to protect our freedom," Mrs. Obama said.

On March 1, Mrs. Obama will launch a national support campaign for military families and she was appearing on TV on a special episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss it, even as she was visiting Fort Jackson, where she gave a rousing send off to 1,100 soldiers graduating from Basic Training. She also toured one of the mess halls and got a briefing on the Army's revamp of fitness and healthy eating programs. By the end of the day, Mrs. Obama was certain that the Army is doing things that can be replicated in her own efforts to fight childhood obesity. (At top: Mrs. Obama in the mess hall with soldiers in training Kevin Antolin (L) of Hawaii, Rudolph Buchanon (2nd L) of Illinois and Kimberley Welsh (R) of Vancouver, British Columbia)

Unhealthy recruits: A national security issue
No amount of camouflage can hide the fact that some 40% of about 129,000 annual recruits show up too fat to fight, and so malnourished they suffer physical problems such as hip injuries from a lack of bone strength, even before they finish the ten weeks of basic training, Mrs. Obama was told during a briefing by Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who is in charge of the Army's programs for recruits. (Above: Mrs. Obama during the briefing, seated beside Hertling)

Helped by three high-tech giant flat screen TVs in a conference room in the Drill Sergeant school, Hertling and other top brass described for Mrs. Obama the unhealthy state of America's recruits for the all-volunteer Army. Hertling said that about 59% of female recruits and 47% of male recruits fail the entry-level physical fitness test, and nearly 15% of 17- to 24-year-olds are not qualified to join the Army at all because they are too overweight.

"It's not just a health issue for children, it's a national security issue," Mrs. Obama said.

Hertling told Mrs. Obama that he believes a combination of too much computer and screen time, too much fast food and soda, and a sedentary culture have led to the problems. The entry-level test requires recruits to do one minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups and a 1-mile run. In 2000, less than 20% of the recruits failed the test.

"It's a generational thing," Hertling said.

Hertling and his team have started “Fueling the Soldier,” a sweeping overhaul of the methods used to make recruits battle ready, with three components: Fitness, athletic training and nutrition. Hertling said recruits are learning how to eat for high performance and how to take care of their fitness, thanks to the educational program.

The Go Green dining program
After the briefing, Mrs. Obama toured the 2-39th dining facility, one of 13 mess halls on the postIn the mess hall. After, she sat with recruits as they ate their lunch (above).

Under the "Go Green" program, soldiers are offered color-coded food choices so they can easily identify nutritious options.

Changes in the chow line have been dramatic: Food is baked, not fried. Soda machines have been replaced with "hydration stations," which have water, juice and skim milk dispensers. Tubs that once held pastries and desserts now hold yogurt and fresh fruit.

"The military can model so many wonderful solutions," Mrs. Obama said.

Changing the menus to healthier foods has required no additional funding, Hertling said.

Foods are color coded to help soldiers make better food choices: Green for the healthiest, such as baked salmon and broccoli; yellow for foods that fall in the middle range, and red for the least healthy choices. Calorie counts and nutrition information are posted, too.

Mrs. Obama also checked out the big salad bar, a project that's close to her heart; as part of Let's Move!, she's launched the Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign, a three-year initiative to get 6,000 salad bars into America's public schools (Above, Mrs. Obama with Lt. Col. Sonya Cable at the salad bar).

"The key to this is making them accountable for their choices and tying it to a broader goal of being fit and how they feel — and then it builds on itself," Mrs. Obama said about training the soldiers to not only handle weapons but also to make healthier food choices.

Hailing the 1,100 graduates, and a pledge of support...
After her briefing and mess hall visit, Mrs. Obama gave the keynote address during the Basic Training graduation ceremony on Hilton Field for the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 165th brigade. Thousands of friends and family who had traveled from around the country to Fort Jackson crammed the parade ground bleachers to watch the 1,100 soldiers graduate. (Above: Mrs. Obama during her remarks to the troops)

Mrs. Obama thanked the graduates--and their parents and families--for their service. She told them that ten weeks in basic training may seem like a long time, but that it was more than worth it.

"You learned to follow but you also learned to lead," Mrs. Obama said.

The families cheered and stomped their feet as the six companies of soldiers marched onto the field. Mrs. Obama said that her husband, President Barack Obama, is committed to providing them everything they need while in service, and the care and support they might require as veterans after service.

“[Making healthy choices] isn’t just an issue that’s important to me as First Lady," Mrs. Obama said. "In recent years, military leaders across the country have been speaking out about how proper nutrition is vital to the success of our armed forces. And so they’ve designed some wonderful programs like the ones here at Fort Jackson with the goal of ensuring that every one of you is fit to serve."

Mrs. Obama added that she hoped the lessons would stick with the soldiers even after they left the Army.

"This is an important step, and one that I hope that each of you can keep with you for the rest of your lives. I hope that these are lessons that you can take back to your own families, your own children, as you move forward," Mrs. Obama said.

Mrs. Obama remained on the platform, standing and applauding as all 1,100 troops passed in review. On Monday, President Obama and Mrs. Obama unveiled new initiatives to help veterans and their families, including support programs for post-combat psychological issues and efforts to deal with veterans' homelessness.

The First Lady's visit earned her lauds from Sgt. Brian Evans of East St. Louis, Ill, a drill sergeant who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan 11 times as a special forces soldier.

"It was a prestigious experience," said Evans. "It's good to know that the president and First Lady care about our soldiers' health."

"She's a really warm nice person," Evans added.

*Photos by Samantha Appleton/White House, except for top photo, salad bar photo and Mrs. Obama at podium; those are by AP