Navy fails to realize obesity issues root cause, assigning solution destined to fail

Petty Officers Theresa Derby, left, and Lentoyi White run through the morning fog as part of their exercise routine Monday Feb. 29, 2016, in Coronado, Calif. The pair are trying to improve their fitness in order to pass the Navy's fitness test and remain in the Navy. (U.S. Navy)

Faced with the issue of overweight sailors, America’s oceanic branch is pumping out 24-hour gyms on Naval bases all over the world. But will it work?

Six naval bases around the world -ranging from Washington D.C. to Okinawa, Japan- are trying out 24-hour gyms on base to allow sailors to work out whenever their schedule allows, with military personnel working out after-hours needing to enter the facility with a CAC card under the watchful electronic eyes of security cameras.

While the pilot is part of  a larger push from inside the Navy to improve services provided to sailors, the introduction of the 24-hour gyms raises important questions about the fitness of US Navy personnel.

According to Navy Times, the DoD reported that roughly one in every 13 troops is clinically overweight, defined by a body mass-index greater than 25. After sailors and Marines complained about the gym hours not being aligned with their shifts, the Navy decided to try keeping the gyms open at all hours.

“Given the optempo, given the way our sailors and Marines work we need to make sure we give them the opportunity to work out whenever they can,” said retired Marine officer Juliet Beyler, now the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for military manpower and personnel.

“Being the naval services and being forward deployed the way that we are, fitness has always been integral to what we do,” she added. “I’ve always said that maintaining physical fitness is as important as maintaining our weapons systems.”

However, one doesn’t need to be in the arms room to clean their weapon. While access to equipment is a nice luxury, it has never been the military’s answer to, well, anything.

Since well before the days of gyms and laundry lists of required CrossFit equipment, the military has relied on bodyweight exercises, practical training and work-related exercise.

Fat seamen is nothing new- when he was President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt -the former assistant Secretary of the Navy- was disgusted with the physical condition of sailors.

“Many of the older officers were so unfit physically that their condition would have excited laughter, had it not been so serious to think that they belonged to the military arm of the Government,” he wrote in his autobiography.

Pushing up ideas to the Secretary of the Navy at the time, Roosevelt suggested officers partake in “a fifty mile walk within three consecutive days and in total of twenty hours; a ride on horseback at a distance of ninety miles within three consecutive days; or a ride on a bicycle at a distance of 100 miles within three consecutive days,” according to Navy Medicine Live.

Needless to say, it wasn’t very popular.

Almost immediately, Navy Surgeon James Gatewood complained that the endurance tests would leave the men “in a depressed physical state” and suggested that the Navy invest in gymnasiums, golf courses and bowling alleys.

While little has changed since the days of olde, one thing remains certain- no amount of 24-hour gyms will ensure that sailors remain fit. At the end of the day, the issue is not one of equipment, but willpower and discipline. As prisoners have shown us, the most effective exercise techniques revolve around using your environment as a gym, generally with bodyweight exercises.

Without unit-oriented or command-directed to artificially motivate sailors into staying fit, it is unlikely that simply “leaving the light on” (as Motel 6 would put it) will result in a sudden spike in fit sailors any more than it would in the civilian world, where 24-hour-gyms and fat people can be seen from sea to shining sea.

After all, you can lead a horse to water- but you cannot make him pass a PT test.

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Author

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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