Would-Be Soldiers Too Fat to Serve

Military has had to turn away 48,000 overweight recruits since 2005.

March 21, 2009, 11:26 PM

ANNAPOLIS, Md., March 22, 2009— -- Amanda Turcotte wants to be all that she can be, but she's 25 pounds over the Army's weight limit.

Her recruiter is sweating her down to regulation size with a grueling daily exercise regimen.

"If you need to puke there's a garbage can right there," Army recruiter Sgt. Jessica La Pointe told Turcotte during a recent workout at an Annapolis high school. "That's fine. You can come back and finish up."

With fast-food diets and couch potato lifestyles expanding the waistlines of the nation's youth, the former professional kickboxer says she must become personal trainer to many recruits just to get them to boot camp.

"We do get people who come in the office that are overweight by Army standards," La Pointe told ABC News. "And then what we do is try to work out a program through nutrition and exercise."

The standards vary by service. The Army allows 26 percent body fat for men, and more for women. When recruits are asked their weight, "everybody lies," La Pointe said.

Obesity is a national epidemic. Three in four military-age Americans is unqualified to join the military. The No. 1 reason: obesity. One in five military-age Americans is too fat to serve. The military has turned away 48,000 overweight recruits since 2005, more than all the American troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Leo Knight-Inglesby was one of them. Two years ago, when he wanted to join the Air Force, he tipped the scales at 361 pounds -- way over the Air Force limit.

"I was eating everything in the house," Knight-Inglesby told ABC News during a break from basic training. He said a recruiter told him, "You need to lose some weight -- a large amount of weight."

He's now at Boot Camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, after dropping a staggering 161 pounds. He said he did it the old-fashioned way -- exercise, and dropping a daily McDonald's habit.

Tech. Sgt. Scot J. Morin, who oversees physical training at Lackland, has seen the slide in fitness.

"Some of them come down here and they've been on the couch for the past 18 years and haven't run a lick," he told ABC. "When I first got down here the trainees that were coming in were in a little more in shape than they are now."

As the nation's armed forces are stretched by wars on two fronts, an increasing number of recruits never make it past the recruiting office before they're told they're unfit to serve. Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's accessions chief, said obesity amounts to a national crisis, and it makes a tough job filling the military's ranks even tougher.

"It's clearly a problem for the United States military," Gilroy told ABC News. "We're faced with a dwindling pool of the youth population in the 17-to-24-year-old group about which we are very concerned," he said.

Turcotte hopes to be wearing Army green within the month.

Asked if two-hour-a-day workouts are worth it, she said, "Totally. Definitely worth it. ... One more inch off my waist and two more inches off my hips and then I'll be good to go."

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