In an episode that host Billy Shore calls “one of the most important conversations we’ve had,” U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and Air Force Master Sergeant Jennifer Medeiros discuss how poor nutrition, lack of fitness, and food insecurity in society at large are impacting our troops and our national security. “77% of America is not fit enough to join the military,” says Lt. General Hertling. “This is a constant fight for the future of our country,” he warns. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was given command of basic training for the entire U.S. Army “When [new recruits] were leaving basic training, many of them were going to war-fighting units and deploying right into combat, so they had to be ready to fight.” he says. However, 40-50% of these recruits couldn’t pass a simple fitness test, their injury rate was continually trending up due to poor nutrition, and 60% needed major dental work in order to be deployable. Master Sergeant Medeiros, who spent a year as a military dental tech, agrees. “I would get the new kids, and some of the worst ones were … non deployable, like root canals and all kinds of things based off their lack of education and [bad] habits,” she says. “When we get new soldiers and airmen in the military, we’ve got to basically take 20 years of bad habits … and reverse it.”
Hertling addressed these issues by instituting the Soldier Athlete Initiative and Fueling the Soldier program, which changed the way the Army purchased, prepared, and served food to the soldiers. It was also a campaign to educate soldiers on how important it is to eat right. “Soldiers want to survive on the battlefield … if you’re going to be in a world-class organization and you’re going to have to perform like an Olympic athlete on the battlefield, you better fuel yourself for performance, not just eat,” he states. Medeiros also sees a different role for food in the military. As an enlisted aide and military chef, her duties include preparing meals for important meetings between domestic and foreign leaders and heads of state. She knows that food is necessary for building relationships and trust with other countries. “Food brings nations together. The only thing in this world that everyone has in common, is food. And food is life,” she says.
Listen to this discussion on why addressing hunger and nutrition in America is critical to ensuring our national security.