April 14, 2013
Much is riding on Spc. Chad Andrews meeting his 50-pound weight-loss goal.
Andrews has two young kids and twins on the way. He wants to be around for their high school graduations and weddings.
More immediately, he wants to put food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads.
But every day that Andrews, a 250-pound intelligence soldier, is overweight by Army standards, his job is in jeopardy.
Under the Army Weight Control Program, soldiers who don’t meet the service’s weight-for-height standards may be subject to separation.
“I didn’t want that to be me,” said Andrews, 30.
In December, Andrews saw a flier for Fort Carson’s new Army Wellness Center. As part of its programs, the center offers to evaluate the body mass index and maximum oxygen consumption of soldiers, their dependents and retirees.
It does so by using state-of-the-art equipment found at NFL training centers — technology the Army once reserved for installations such as the Army War College.
The center also offers classes that teach clients to boost their metabolism by improving their diet, and counseling that helps them develop better workout plans.
The services — which come with a hefty price tag in the civilian world — are provided for free.
Andrews’ extra pounds were blocking him from promotion, so he decided to stop by the center.
“I was frustrated,” Andrews said. “I had stripped out everything I possibly could from my diet to meet my calorie limit. My body had basically gone into full shutdown, ‘You’re starving, let’s hold onto it,’ mode.”
After a few hours at the center, Andrews learned he could nearly double the amount of food he ate each day, if he did so smartly and worked out more often.
In a month and a half, he lost nearly 20 pounds.
He expects soon to be off blood pressure and cholesterol medications and isn’t as concerned about being kicked out of the military.
“The center makes you take stock of what you’re doing this for, whether it is family or you’re trying to build skill sets,” he said.
“If you’re doing this to yourself and you’re allowing yourself to drop below the line where you need to be to stay in the Army, you’ve effectively just shot your dreams.”
Andrew is one of many soldiers struggling with weight issues, said Tony Heinz, program manager for the center.
According to a 2005 Department of Defense survey, 61 percent of active-duty male troops and 39 percent of active-duty female troops were nominally overweight, and 12 percent were obese.
Excessive weight doesn’t just hamper the potential effectiveness of the country’s fighting force. Ramifications like high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes cost the military’s health care system millions of dollars a year, Heinz said.
The center’s mission is to curtail those problems, he said.
“If we can get ahead of the problem and prevent that kind of expense in the future, we’re going to save money,” Heinz said. “It’s an investment in the soldier and the spouse and retirees.”
It’s an investment that’s paying off.
“With Andrews alone we have saved the Army thousands of dollars, and we see 30 to 50 clients a day,” Heinz said.
Heinz hopes to boost the center’s staffing and equipment.
If he wants to keep up with the influx of clients, he might need to.
About 10 percent of 2nd Brigade’s soldiers are overweight and have been ordered to report to the center, Heinz said.
So have all company commanders and first sergeants new to post, in hopes they’ll spread the word about the center to their soldiers.
Soldiers are also ordered to the center on an individual basis, and self-referrals like Andrews are always welcome, Heinz said.
Andrews enthusiastically shows up at the center every few weeks for body scans that update him on the amount of fat and fat-free weight in his body.
He likes the center so much that he told his superiors he wants to stay at Fort Carson instead of transferring.
While nearly 40 similar wellness centers will eventually open at Army posts throughout the U.S., Fort Carson is the only installation to offer such services to all troops in a consolidated manner: Soldiers show up once for several hours of testing, and a second time for several hours of classes.
“I can find good schools for my kids elsewhere,” Andrews said. “But there’s not yet another program like this that’s so accessible to me and my family.”
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