The future of the United States depends on a strong, fit, and healthy defense force.
And while the US military stands ready to protect the American people against threats both domestic and abroad, the challenge of recruitment has hit a new roadblock.
It's a problem so large, it could take a generation to fix it.
According to the advocacy group, Mission Readiness, which is made up of more than 100 retired generals, admirals and other senior military leaders, 75 percent of all young Americans ages 17 to 24 -- prime recruitment age -- are unfit for service because of school records, criminal records or, the single biggest reason, they're just too fat.
"One year we missed our recruiting objective by over 7,000," said Ret. Gen. Jack Wheeler with Mission Readiness. "And we said, 'Oh gosh, the recruiter's not working hard enough.' Well, come to find out, they were working hard enough. They had enough young volunteers coming to the door wanting to volunteer, but they failed to qualify."
Mission Readiness released its latest report with a simple message: If our kids continue on this sedentary path of gaming from the couch instead of the field and choosing all the wrong stuff at breakfast, lunch and in between, it will be impossible to maintain our current military, putting the nation's very defense at risk.
In South Carolina, recruiters are seeing it too. Every branch has it's own health parameters.
"I would say it's around a 60-40 split," said Sgt. Robert Keiser, USMC Recruiter in Myrtle Beach. "You know, 60 percent come in who might have to lose or even gain a little bit of weight, 40 percent are within our height and weight standards."
Carson Livers is a Marine recruit from Little River. The numbers don't surprise him at all.
"I think the culture that we live in today, you know, with all the fast food and all the hormones in all the different foods, it's really making it hard to find the cream of the crop that the military is looking for now," said Livers.
There isn't a single branch of the military that isn't feeling the weight of this problem on its recruitment numbers.
Army Sgt. Steward Whitman, a 16-year veteran recruiter said, "I thought it was pretty spot on."
Whitman has traveled the country talking with potential soldiers and said he's watched his pool of qualified recruits shrink.
"I would say right now, you know, 7 to 8 people that come in here for some reason or another are not qualified to join the Army," he said.
"There's snack machines everywhere," said 19-year-old Courtney Cullen.
She knew her appearance would carry a lot of weight when it came time to enlist. But even she admitted temptation was working against her.
"I think it's just because it's what's there," she said. "It's cheap. We just put a dollar in the machine so, it's so easy to be unhealthy."
In fact, the Mission Readiness report points a very large finger at schools: their high calorie, low nutrition foods, lack of emphasis on physical fitness, and lack of meaningful intervention programs.
Half of the report focuses on schools. They, along with the CDC, believe schools could save the day and perhaps at the end of the day, save our national security.
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