Monday, February 1, 2010

Too Fat to Serve?

I volunteer at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City.  While I was there on Saturday, I had the opportunity to discuss World War I uniforms with an interpreter.  We discussed how the biggest change to the uniforms over time has been their size.  We Marines still wear a service uniform that is eerily similar to the olive drab service uniform and garrison cover that were worn by the World War I “Teufelhunden.”  However, during World War I the average uniform size for the jacket was a 30, according to my interpreter friend; today that is considered an extra small for the Army’s Battle Dress Uniform.  Looking at the jackets that the museum has hanging in their case, lined up as though proudly marching in formation, it is difficult to imagine a soldier or Marine of today fitting into even the largest of these jackets. 


When I got home from the museum, I found in my mailbox an article called “Heavy Artillery” that ran in The New Yorker on 25 January 2010.  The piece is a spoof of today’s military that was inspired by the pentagon study showing that 75 percent of today’s youth do not qualify for military service due to obesity, drug use, illness, and intelligence level.  “Heavy Artillery” is quite funny — I found myself laughing out loud as I read it —  but it really isn’t far off the mark.  I remember all too well the joy I felt when I found out that there were Coca-Cola products available in the chow hall at The Basic School (Marine Officer training).


While I initially thought that the pentagon’s solution of educating young kids about eating healthy was a bit extreme, I have come to believe that maybe it is just what Americans need.  During World War I, thousands of Americans volunteered to serve their country as soldiers, nurses, truck drivers, and “hello girls” (female telephone operators who spoke English and French).  People were fit enough to come to the aid of their country at its call, and nearly everyone of every age contributed to the war effort, in part by rationing food.  If we needed every fit American to come to our beloved nation’s defense tomorrow, how large would our Army be?  How many people would agree to limit their food intake so that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines could be fed?


We don’t need the military to tell us that overeating limits our opportunities; we already know that to be the case.  I don’t think that Recruiters spreading a message of healthy eating is nearly as effective as parents and teachers doing it.  If we all made a commitment to drink a few more glasses of water and eat a few less sweets, to set the example regarding healthy eating and exercise for our country’s young people, think of how much our nation could accomplish with all of our extra energy.  Even I would be willing to forego a few of my beloved Cokes in order to make sure that I remain qualified to wear the uniform of my country; a uniform that, truth be told, is just a bit bigger than those in the museum’s display case.

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