Too Fat to Fight? Military Recruitment Grapples With Obesity Epidemic

He also cited education as a major reason for turning away prospective recruits, estimating that only 20 to 30 percent of potential enlistees that he sees are able to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), the military's SAT-like entrance examination that tests arithmetic reasoning, mathematics knowledge, paragraph comprehension and word knowledge.

In imposing both physical and "quality" standards -- including educational and aptitude benchmarks -- for all enlistees, the military is a "selective employer," and the standards are key to recruitment, Gilroy said.

"We call this an all-volunteer force, don't we? But it's really an all-recruited force," he told ABC News. "I think over the near term, [recruitment] is steady as she goes, if you will."

2009 was the first year since the 1973 formation of the all-volunteer force when all active and reserve components of the U.S. military -- including the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps -- met or exceeded their recruitment goals, both in terms of quantity and quality, according to the Department of Defense.

With recruits for both the active duty and reserve forces "slightly ahead" of their year-to-date goals, the military is on track to reach its 300,000-strong recruit benchmark for 2010, said Gilroy.

But while the numbers might seem re-assuring, many blame the economy for the enlistment boost, as more teens turn to a military career in the face of a tough job market.

"I think the key word there is 'for the first time.' It was the first time in history [for such record recruitment numbers]," said Amy Dawson Taggert, national director for Mission: Readiness. "A weak economy is no formula for staffing a strong military."

Taggert and her Mission: Readiness have launched a campaign against unhealthy school lunches, lobbying for stricter school nutrition standards and increased anti-obesity programming for children.

But for Seip and other military officers of generations past, the help can't come soon enough.

"That's our future," Seip said. "If we don't get that right, then bad on us, because we have no one else to blame but ourselves."

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