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(WMC-TV) – The United States military stands ready to protect the American people against threats both domestic and abroad, but some military leaders say that job is becoming increasingly difficult as would-be recruits are, simply put, too fat to fight.
Recruiters are clear: it's not that there aren't enough volunteers. The problem, according to one advocacy group, is that too many young people can't serve because they're obese.
"Mission Readiness," a coalition of retired generals, admirals and civilian military leaders says it's a harsh reality.
"One year we missed our recruiting objective by over seven thousand," said Retired General Jack Wheeler. "And we said, 'Oh Gosh, the recruiter's not working hard enough.' Well come to find out, they were working hard enough. They had enough young volunteers coming to the door wanting to volunteer, but they failed to qualify."
"Mission Readiness" is calling attention to the fitness level of our nation's youth which they say is rapidly deteriorating. In their research publication, Too Fat to Fight, the mission details what it calls an alarming statistic.
Over a 10 year period, the number of obese young people increased by 10 percent or more in nearly every state.
A few states, including Mississippi, even crossed the fifty percent mark.
Chief Warrant Officer Tyrone Hall works with the ROTC program at Horn Lake High School.
"There's a big issue with Americans specifically being fit enough to enlist in military service because of obesity and other overweight issues," Hall said.
In September, Officer Hall presented a plan to DeSoto County supervisors asking to build a physically demanding obstacle course to include hurdles and a 10 to 15-foot climbing wall. His goal: to build confidence and trim the fat.
Experts say it's time to trim kids' increasing reliance on technology and a societal shift towards non-physical activity.
"When we look at what our intake is of our kids, and the lack of exercise they are getting, that is where we are today as compared to twenty or thirty years ago when kids were eating a lot more fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and getting a lot more exercise," Gen. Wheeler said.
If the current trends continue, military leaders say we'll be in trouble if we need to raise a large fighting force in a short period of time.
Chief Warrant Officer Hall hopes to see construction on the course in Horn Lake sometime next year and adds that he's like to see it used by everyone in DeSoto County, since the impact could reach much further than one high school ROTC program.