Liposuction can't salvage Navy career

By Mark D. Faram
Monday, January 31, 2011; 5:28 PM

KEY WEST, FLA. - Mick Kruger is not out of shape.

The 38-year-old master-at-arms first class has never failed a physical readiness test. He routinely scores "excellent" on the mile-and-a-half run. He has run one marathon and finished three others on in-line skates.

His performance evaluations during his regular assignments have never gone below 4.0 (out of 5), and they laud him for his "superb military appearance."

At 6 feet 4 inches tall, he weighs almost 240 pounds. Yet the Navy is kicking him out because, it says, he's too fat.

Physically fit just isn't good enough.

In October, Kruger's neck measured 16 inches, and his abdomen was 40.5 inches. The Navy's system for measuring body fat involves subtracting the neck figure from abdomen figure to get the sailor's "circumference value." That value is matched on a chart against the sailor's height, then rounded up to the nearest half-inch, to give his body-fat percentage.

In other words, if your neck is thin relative to your abdomen, you're sunk.

Based on his most recent measurement, Kruger's body fat is 25 percent. Despite his size, he's never been far from the Navy's limit of 22 percent for men up to age 39, usually a few percentage points over. Kruger shared his fitness data, evaluations and separation documents with Navy Times for this article.

The Defense Department allows up to 26 percent body fat - a threshold Kruger hasn't broken - though the Navy chooses to have tighter standards.

"In most people's books I would be considered a 'fast tracker,' " that is, someone likely to move up the ranks, said Kruger. He has earned multiple warfare qualifications and classifications, signifying that he has learned specialized skills, and he volunteered for a 10-month deployment to Iraq. "Yet once you fail a [physical fitness assessment, or PFA] - either the events or body fat - all of this comes to a halt."

The PFA has two parts: the physical readiness test and the body composition assessment, or body fat measurement. If you fail either, you have failed the PFA.

Three times in the past four years, Kruger has failed the Navy's body composition assessment. (In the Navy, this means automatic processing for separation from the service.) He even spent $4,500 on liposuction last year to take inches off his abdomen. The problem for Kruger is his body shape.

"It is extremely frustrating because I look professional in uniform," he said. "I can beat a lot of 18- to 24-year-olds running, and anyone who looks at me says, 'There is no way you are out of standards.' "

But his command is sticking with Navy policy. "The Navy PFA program is established to ensure the readiness of naval personnel for service," said Trice Denny, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Station Key West. "The policy dictates a procedure that has to be followed once a sailor has three failures in four years. A command is obligated to process for separation any sailor at that point."

Kruger said he has participated in fitness enhancement programs at every command to get his weight down. And during his military career, he's never shied away from the tough jobs. He spent four years as a Marine infantryman, then joined the Navy, where he has served an additional nine years. Kruger has been a base policeman and deployed on a carrier and with a mobile security squadron to Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In spring 2009, Kruger was stationed at the Kings Bay submarine base in Georgia. He received a "good high" - slightly better than the middle score on a range from failure to "outstanding high" - on the exercises but was measured at 24 percent body fat. That was his first PFA failure.

It was during this time that Kruger's wife, April, who had received a diagnosis of Stage III breast cancer before his Iraq tour, learned that it had progressed to Stage IV. She went to Atlanta for treatment and to be near family and friends.

Kruger was given a humanitarian reassignment to Atlanta to care for her and their two children. His command waived his fall 2009 PFA because of his family situation.

April died Oct. 17, 2009. Before dying, she told her husband he should consider liposuction so his body shape would match the Navy's standards. So he decided to give it a try, shelling out $4,500 for the surgery. He also spent $2,000 on a Nutrisystem food plan and $3,200 on a Bowflex TreadClimber so he could work out at home - a total price tag of nearly $10,000 in an attempt to save his career.

His humanitarian assignment over, Kruger was transferred in April to Key West, where he has been working as a patrolman on the base police force and as an investigator for the command.

Kruger admits that during his wife's three-year cancer battle, he didn't exercise heavily but still managed to score a "good low" on his exercises. However, his body fat increased to 26 percent in the spring cycle - his second failure.

On Oct. 29, 2010, he kept his "good low" fitness score, but his body fat was 25 percent. Kruger had failed his third assessment.

A board of two officers and a chief petty officer voted unanimously to separate him from service. On Jan. 14, he learned that he and his children, ages 6 and 4, had 10 working days to get out of base housing. The Navy has since given him more time to move. He's been told he'll be out of the Navy on Feb. 4.

Faram is a reporter for Navy Times, an independent publication that is part of Gannett Government Media Corp.

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