...Asthma, eyesight and hearing problems are also factors. But about a third of all potential recruits can't join is because they're too fat and out of shape.
"When you get kids who can't do push-ups, pull-ups or run, this is a fundamental problem not just for the military but for the country," said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's director of accessions policy. Many kids are not "taking physical education in school; they're more interested in sedentary activities such as the computer or television. And we have a fast-food mentality in this country."
Recruiters, then, become part-time tutors and coaches, helping with homework and whipping kids into shape. Some even hold after-school workouts, where teen-agers prepare for basic training. To pass an Army physical fitness test, an 18-year-old male must do 42 push-ups in two minutes, 53 sit-ups in two minutes and run two miles in 15 minutes 54 seconds.
Earlier this year, the National Guard opened a "Patriot Academy" in Indiana, which helps high school dropouts earn a high school diploma after graduating from basic training. In Maryland, the majority of Guard recruiters are also certified substitute teachers, helping recruits with their homework, said Sgt. Maj. Anthony Weeks.
"We'll go work out at the gym with them to get them in shape," Weeks said. But that's become increasingly challenging. Nationwide, more than one in four adults is classified as obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mission: Readiness, which comprises 89 retired military leaders including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is pushing Congress to pass the Obama administration's Early Learning Challenge Fund, a program that would grant states $1 billion annually for 10 years for early childhood development programs.
Educators say preschool programs are one of the best ways to ensure academic success later in life. Military officials think they're one of the best ways to ensure the country has a large pool of people who will be savvy enough to fly helicopters, drive tanks and gather intelligence.
"You can't wait until high school in order to change a young person," said Kelley, the retired major general. "It has to be done at a very early age, and that's why the need for high quality early learning is so vital."
What comes to mind when you read this article? Do you believe quality physical education could be the solution to Americans being too overweight to even join the military? If Kelley is right, we should be implementing quality PE as early as preschool. So why aren't we??