Marines in Iraq Are Allowed to Skip the Battle of the Bulge

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Marine Corps has decided that fighting one war at a time is enough.

A recent order from headquarters at Quantico says Marines sent to Iraq can be exempt from the Corps' rigid weight-loss program, which requires weigh-ins, extra physical training and "Semper Fit" lectures about nutrition.

The rigors of a combat zone have made it difficult for Marines to comply with the fitness plan, known as the Body Composition Program, Corps officials said. Under the order issued last month, commanders are allowed to exempt troops in Iraq from what is usually a six-month program.

"In combat, the priority is combat and getting home safely and completing the mission," said Lt. Col. Kristi VanGorder, head of the training section at the Training and Education Command Quantico.

But once a Marine leaves Iraq, he or she is required to resume the fight against fat. Failure to meet standards for body-fat percentage can lead to an administrative discharge.

Every Marine undergoes a weigh-in at least twice a year. If one is heavier than a set standard for his or her height, body fat is calculated. For men, this involves measuring the abdomen and neck; for women, the waist, hips and neck.

The maximum body fat for men is 18 percent; for women, it is 26 percent -- the standard is looser if the Marine excels on an annual fitness test. If body fat is below a prescribed maximum, the Marine is considered to meet the standards regardless of weight and height. "We don't want a bunch of skinny Marines," VanGorder said. "What we want is healthy Marines."

An overweight Marine who has been enrolled in the program before going to Iraq "should attempt to make progress," according to the order.

Although Marines in Iraq will be exempt from the weigh-ins and other aspects of the program, they will not be eligible for promotion until they return and meet the body-fat standards. The only exception is a Marine who performs heroically in combat and receives a meritorious promotion.

Perhaps the Marine Corps enforces its standards more vigorously, but each military service has a program to keep personnel trim. The Marine Corps has a maximum weight for a person's height, regardless of age. The Army makes allowances for weight by age and allows a higher percentage of body fat for all age groups.

Sgt. Zachary Ballantine, who teaches martial arts and weight control at Quantico, says 35 of the 700 Marines in his battalion are in the Body Composition Program. When he took over the job, four Marines were being discharged because they did not meet weight and fitness standards.

Younger Marines are warned to stay away from fast food, Ballantine said. "You can't eat like a slob and then expect to perform well," he said.

-- Los Angeles Times

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