Julie MarshI'm a passionate advocate for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The hundreds of troops who are discharged each year on the basis of sexual orientation -- which I firmly believe falls under nature, not nurture -- cannot conform to this outdated military standard.
On the other hand, thousands of troops are discharged each year for failing to conform to military weight and fitness standards. Ask any commander, and he or she will tell you that there are likely thousands more that ought to be discharged in accordance with the letter of the law, but such personnel losses are discouraged.
Military weight standards aren't stringent. Neither are the fitness standards for most career fields in all four branches of the armed services. Obviously those who serve in physically demanding capacities are in far better shape than desk jockeys, but even desk jockeys get deployed.
Conservatives of late have mocked First Lady Michelle Obama's emphasis on healthy eating. It seems that anything advocated by Democrats, no matter how common sense and positive it may be, is fodder for criticism by Republicans. I'm frankly flabbergasted by the objections. Encouraging health and fitness is an effort that ought to transcend petty partisan squabbling, but folks like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are taking pettiness to a new level.
Meanwhile, former military leaders agree with Michelle Obama. They're worried about our troops and about the kids who will grow up obese. These former military leaders, who are probably for the most part Republicans, are able to, unlike Palin and Limbaugh, view issues clearly, without partisan distortions.
Obesity is a problem. Those who are obese know it, those who are overweight know it, and those who are fit know it. Obesity is not an indictment of someone's character, nor does obesity define a person. But it costs you -- money, time, pleasure -- and it can kill you.
It's actually quite difficult to process discharges for overweight troops. Instead, supervisors direct personnel to attend weight loss groups or physical training. In the Air Force, I've been told they also mark down enlisted troops on their performance reviews in areas that aren't actually related to fitness. It's a passive-aggressive, cover-your-ass sort of approach. Either military troops need to maintain weight and fitness standards in order to perform their jobs, or they do not.
Given that even desk jockeys can be deployed, where the physical demands on troops are greater and the consequences can be far more drastic, I believe that standards ought to be more stringent and they ought to be strictly enforced -- even if that leads to personnel losses. We have an all-volunteer force, and I hope that those who want to serve will do so. But military service entails demands that civilian life doesn't, and those who serve should be prepared to meet those demands.
As for the First Lady's efforts concerning healthy eating, I applaud them. I would applaud them if they were promoted by Cindy McCain or Sarah Palin or Ann Romney. Kids, teens, adults -- whether military (or military-bound) or civilian, we all ought to check our habits for potential improvement.