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First lady: Army health initiative may be a model

Associated Press Modified: January 27, 2011 at 3:39 pm •  Published: January 27, 2011
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FORT JACKSON, S.C. (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama said Thursday that the military's push to turn recruits into health-conscious warriors could be a model for making people across the U.S. more focused on fitness and nutrition.

Obama, who has made battling childhood obesity one of her signature causes as first lady, visited the Army's largest training post at Fort Jackson outside Columbia to see what the Army has done, from more rigorous training drills to fat-free milk in its mess halls.

She told Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who has worked to overhaul both the soldiers' diets and exercise programs, that she was fascinated by the project.

A lack of fitness is "not just a health issue but a national security issue," she said, and the military's health initiatives could be a model for youngsters elsewhere.

"A lot of young people around the country could use the same kind of support," she said.

Hertling gave the first lady a military-style briefing, accompanied by colorful slides beamed on three large screens hung on the walls, that detailed how the nation's obesity problems create problems for the Army.

Kids are spending too much time in front of TV and computer screens, not getting enough exercise and drinking too many sugary soft drinks, Hertling said. He said that makes their bones too fragile for military lifestyles.

New soldiers are given exercises for core body strength and stamina. Obama got to see the green salads, fruit and nuts offered in one of the chow lines at the post and chatted with drill sergeants about the challenges of getting recruits into shape.

The first lady sat with a half-dozen senior trainers, asking them how they dealt with a generation more adept at video games than sports or playground games.

"How are the soldiers reacting to this new training? I'm a mother, and it's all about getting the kids to go outside," she told Staff. Sgt. Brian Evans, of East St. Louis, Ill.

"It takes a while before they figure it out, that this food, this exercise, actually works," responded Evans, a 14-year Army veteran who said he'd been deployed seven times to Iraq and four to Afghanistan with Special Operations units. "Hopefully they will take that and adapt it to their lifestyle, so it branches off back to their families."

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