FORT JACKSON, SC (WIS) - First Lady Michelle Obama said she is proud of the Army's newest batch of soldiers during a visit to the Army's largest training post to see how the military turns couch potato recruits into strong and nutrition-minded soldiers.
The first lady arrived Thursday morning around 10:30 to address the latest crop of new soldiers at their graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson and to hear about Army efforts to turn unfit teens into warriors. Mrs. Obama, who is promoting the Let's Move! Program to combat childhood obesity, said "It's not just a health issue for children, it's a national security issue."
"Some people look at the issue of childhood obesity and say 'Let's move,' and some have said, 'Oh, that's an easy issue. Why didn't you pick something a little harder?' But the truth is this is real," said Mrs. Obama.
Lt. General Mark Hertling said the fact is, it's starting to affect military readiness. "We're starting to see the results now of the elimination in most secondary and primary schools of physical education in the mid 90's," said Lt. General Hertling.
Lt. General Hertling attributed the problem to television, computers and fast food. He said today's youth are smarter as a group, "but they don't do things like play."
Of the 129,000 recruits each year, about 40 percent are overweight. It's led to a tactical change in military mess halls. During her tour Thursday, the staff showed Mrs. Obama what they're serving up for our troops. She also talked with drill sergeants about the nutritional and fitness goals they're laying on the line for basic trainees. "I am excited about making the rest of the country aware, not just of the challenges you face, but the work you're doing to get these young recruits and trainees back on track," said Mrs. Obama.
"We've taken it away from hey, eat healthy to performance," said Lt. General Hertling, "You know if you want to be a better soldier, you've got to perform in high energy."
Mrs. Obama is hoping the military can help give parents the tools and information they need to get kids moving in the right direction. "So we've gotta unite as a nation behind this issue because it's affecting our ability to protect our freedoms," said Mrs. Obama, "It sounds dramatic but it's true."
After the briefing, Obama went through an Army chow line to see their new diet and chatted with drill sergeants about the challenges of getting the recruits in shape.
She said she is proud of the Army's newest batch of soldiers and the families supporting them.
The first lady told the 1,100 soldiers graduating from basic training they were the best America has to offer because they volunteered to serve in a time of war.
To wild cheers, Obama praised the families attending for letting their young men and women serve their country despite the risks.
Fort Jackson trains more than 60,000 soldiers annually, including more than half of the Army's female soldiers.