armed forces

Memorial Day in the U.S kicks off summer. In the fun of swimming pools opening, picnics, barbecues, summer fashions and the end of the school year, it’s easy to forget the true reason for this holiday:  remembering our military servants who died in service to our country.  Its roots go back to the Civil War in the United States (1861 to 1865). The end of May was chosen because there are so many flowers available, and there would need to be oh, so many flowers for the  625,000 soldiers killed in that terrible war.  Those numbers bring to mind the Book of Mormon Battles.

Has there ever been a time when war was not part of life itself?  From the moment that Cain killed Abel, it seems that there has been conflict, large or small, where inflicting human suffering and death is a reality meant to create some kind of winning outcome.

Wickedness, war and turmoil are an important sign of Christ’s coming.  Many of the signs are terrifying and dreadful. The prophets have warned that the earth will experience great turmoil, wickedness, war, and suffering. The prophet Daniel said that the time before the Second Coming would be a time of trouble such as the earth has never known (see Daniel 12:1). The Lord said, “The love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound” (D&C 45:27).

Jesus told his disciples that war would fill the earth: “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. … For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6-7). These wars will continue until a great and final war, the most destructive the world has known. In the midst of this war the Savior will appear. (See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 732.)

Well, Happy Memorial Day!  We are living in a time of prophecy!  Let us celebrate not only those who have served their countries in war, but those who currently serve and set an inspiring example for the rest of us!

Having lived in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area for many years, our Wards and Stakes are filled with outstanding military personnel and their families.  Most are here for 1-3 years on technical assignments and for training.  Others have permanent assignments in the area, i.e., musicians that serve in the bands.  Some are deployed, leaving their families here in our wards for safe-keeping while they are gone.

Whatever their rank and for however long they are with us, we love these men and women and their families!  We  honor them for the sacrifices they make to serve our country.

Without fail, of course, our military servants are physically fit and at an appropriate, healthy weight. It must be so, simply by definition. Their continually peak physique is inspiring to those of us who struggle.  For them, it’s part of their job.   Meeting that requirement every six months is as routine as making sure their uniforms pass inspection.

Here’s how it works:  A weigh-in and a physical fitness test sit-ups, push-ups and a two minute run are given twice a year. Soldiers who exceed the weight charts are measured for body-fat. Those who exceed the Army body-fat standards are enrolled in the Army Weight Management Program. Those in the weight management program must lose between 3 and 8 pounds per month until they meet body-fat standards. Those who fail to make satisfactory progress are subject to involuntary discharge.

Individuals who exceed body-fat standards are ineligible for promotion, professional military education, most non-mandatory training schools, and reenlistment.

(In visiting personally with our military leaders, there is a great deal of support provided when they do not pass this six month test and it is usually resolved before termination is required.)

Of course, military service is not the only career path with a weight requirement that must be met to keep your job: Fire fighters, police and airline personnel and athletes quickly come to mind, not to mention Weight Watchers employees!

It’s a gift from our Heavenly Father, and an absolute truth, of course, that for the very most important jobs and roles in our lives (First as a child of God, and then as we go forth in various capacities as parents, sons, daughters, service in the Kingdom, etc.) what we weigh and our physical fitness level has absolutely no pre-defined bearing on our abilities to fulfill our responsibilities or to measure our capacity to experience joy and success in every way.

With that that being the foundation of this article, it’s interesting to consider …

What is it like live with a weight requirement for employment? Specifically, for our military personnel as they serve the United States in 2012?  And would there be any benefit for we non-military individuals to take a closer look at how required fitness might be a very positive benefit for ourselves and our families?

To answer that question, I had two very interesting conversations with two Colonels in the U.S. Army:  Colonel James E. Taylor, a Senior Intelligence Officer (a member of of the Rolling Valley Ward, Annandale Stake, and Colonel Brett Barraclough, Security Specialist providing analysis for major U.S. Bases (a member of of the Springfield Ward, Annandale Stake.)

They are here in the Washington, D.C. area on assignment.  Both have been stationed here more than once in their military careers. Both grew up with dreams of becoming a military officer.  In Brother Taylor’s case, there is the family tradition of having come from a family were every generation has had a military servant since the U.S. Revolutionary War in the 1770’s.

Both have served in various LDS Church leadership positions in many parts of the United States and around the world as they also have served in the Army.  Both have families with their youngest children still at home.  Interestingly, both are currently serving the youth of the Church:  Brother Taylor in the Stake Young Men Presidency and Brother Barraclough as a seminary teacher.

“How do you handle that 6-month weigh-in and fitness test?” I asked both of them.  “Is it something that hangs as a concern for you?”

“Absolutely NOT!”  They both answered emphatically, and the conversations went from there. The were both adamant in explaining that managing their personal weight is daily maintenance issue, not a twice-a-year big deal.

Brother Taylor was 17 years old when he went to Boot Camp.  “I was 20 pounds overweight.  They worked it off me with running, training and the grueling physical demands that define boot camp.  I have kept it off ever since with running every day. I like to do 5 miles, but when that is not possible time-wise I do whatever I can.  An hour is optimal.  It’s absolutely imperative that I DO find time to exercise.”

He then added authoritatively:

I lead by example! It’s a leadership issue!!! I have many officers at various ranks underneath me, and they have soldiers underneath them!  If I cannot find, create and manage the time and motivation required to keep my weight and fitness in top form, how can I expect it of them and their soldiers?” 

I mentioned to him how amazing it would be, and how the overall health of the nation would improve if parents saw themselves as true leaders for their families, and set the example with adequate exercise and nutrition.


He agreed and then continued: “It’s just reality: most of us gain weight easily.  And here’s why:  It takes 10 minutes or so to eat a 700-calorie bowl of ice cream.  It takes 2 hours to exercise that off!  Who has that kind of time or is going to spend it that way?  If our kids saw us munching on carrots between meals instead of candy, cookies and soda … empty calories … and conscientiously making smart health choices, I believe it would make a BIG difference.”

Brother Barraclough went straight to West Point Academy in West Point, New York after graduating from High School.  He was in peak physical condition.  “To even submit a qualified application you have to be in tip-top shape.  I was at my personal physical best and was in the top 1% of 1st year cadets when the running, sit-ups and push-up testing was done as I entered.” 

He has maintained it throughout the years, also by running and watching what he eats.

“My biggest challenge is that my days are a whirlwind.   I rise at 4:30 a.m., then with a demanding schedule that never stops.  Nevertheless, I must exercise and I must eat right!”

He has found that yogurt is his best friend.  “I can go anywhere in the world and find it, and it really satisfies me.  I try to do my eating early in the day.”  He loves being at home where his wife Donna makes deliciously healthy chicken meals and soups.

Brother Barraclough travels extensively, doing security analysis and tactics for large military bases.  When I visited with him, he had just returned from a trip to Korea and Kuwait.

“I was in the dining halls there in Kuwait with our soldiers. Posted visibly throughout are nutrition charts and information.  They’ve even instituted a stop-light chart for foods:  red light foods (eat a minimal amount), yellow light foods (eat a moderate amount) and green light foods (enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.) 

Both Brother Barraclough and Brother Taylor had very interesting observations of how the health of our young soldiers entering the military has changed since they themselves entered. 

Brother Taylor says:  “There’s a marked decline over the past 10-15 years.  We’re having to significantly adjust our fitness training for entry level soldiers. They simply cannot do the sit-ups, push-ups and running that entry level soldiers used to be able to do. Some of them have to work very hard to leave boot camp at a physically conditioned performance level that was previously an entry level.”

Brother Barraclough confirmed this decline in the physical strength of our youth.  They both agreed that the changing world is much more sedentary:  video games, computer activities and socializing on Facebook take up a great deal of our youth’s time, time that used to be spent engaged in sports and physical activity that was enjoyed for the fun, friends and the challenge of it – and created strong, healthy bodies naturally.

Brother Barraclough continued with the observation that for many schools, budget cuts have greatly reduced intramural sports and opportunities for fitness for the average student.  “Here in Fairfax County, Virginia, it’s highly competitive to earn a spot on the teams.  Actually many of the kids that do get to participate on the high school athletic teams are more at a college level. If you don’t make the team … you’re out of luck to participate since there are not school programs in place for the average athlete to enjoy playing and getting that important physical conditioning.  Physical Education classes are not even required in many schools.  And even when they are, a P.E. class is just not enough.”

“You look at the Book of Mormon, the stripling warriors.  They were raised to be righteous, yes, but they were raised to be physically healthy and physically STRONG.  And they were taught by their mothers!”

Brother Barraclough emphasized that his military medical assessments over the past years have been adapted as he ages:  “Not only do they check weight and fitness levels, but they do advanced medical testing to ascertain other elements of health.  In my earlier years, adequate sleep was poo-poohed, but now it is also a priority.  Tests have been shown that show that sleep-deprived leaders make the same unwise decisions as those who have been drinking.  Adequate rest is extremely important!”

In noting the changes that are being made in the physical fitness for our soldiers, Brother Barraclough said that many training facilities are moving beyond the standard running, sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups.  There is a system called TRX Training that is excellent. Just google TRX and you’ll find plenty of information. It’s a set of suspension straps that allow you to use your body weight instead of gym equipment. 

In talking about why all this physical conditioning is imperative, Brother Barraclough said, “Well, of course, we’re not going to send out soldiers who are simply not up to the mission! If there are strength issues, blood pressure or blood sugar level issues, etc., they are simply not up for the job.”

What needs to be emphasized, though is that physical strength and fitness is a great stress reducer! When our soldiers are in peak physical condition, they manage the stress (and tedium) of war and its demands.”

Brother Taylor added this element to the value and importance of physical fitness:
A  high level of physical conditioning provides a sense of self-confidence and strength that doesn’t come any other way. The knowledge that if you needed to, you could hike for an hour, or could run for an hour, that you can walk up the stairs, without being out of breath, lift, move and – that is really a confidence builder in many ways that affects how you present yourself, how you talk to people ….”

After visiting with both of these remarkable military leaders, I marveled at how some of the finest leaders the U.S. military depends on are LDS, and while they are no doubt professionally formidable to those that work underneath them, in their families, wards and while serving the Lord, they are gentle, kind and great examples of being true Priesthood leaders.

I pondered my time with them and thought about my own life as a Child of God, as a wife, mother, sister, daughter .. as a write and with my online business and many customers and how my personal fitness level impacts not only my functioning, but my mood. 

I felt a renewed impression once more that each have not only a responsibility for our own health, but an opportunity to set an example for those around us. Our world and our future and how we manage the forthcoming events, depend on our health!  While my job as a mother, wife, writer and internet marketer hardly requires a weight check, how much BETTER I perform in every capacity when my weight is in check, how much HAPPIER I personally am, when my weight is where it should be, how differently I manage STRESS when I’ve been exercising!   I want my kids to see and remember those things!  I want them to know that one’s personal powers are greatly enhanced when one takes the responsibility for eating and exercising right seriously.  (I also felt a desire to be able to do a ton of push-ups and sit-ups … I am adding that to my own exercise plan!)

OK!  What can we do?

* Lead by example!
* Control portions, eat smart
* Turn off the computer!
* Get outside and PLAY!
* Get Physically Active!
* Accept the truth that EXERCISE is the best stress relief of all
* Do not count on school or community programs to provide opportunity for physical activity
* Institute a personal plan for exercise and make it a top priority
* Serve fattening, non-nutritional treats only at  special times, and then eat with moderation
* Make some stop-light charts for refrigerator and cupboards
* Recognize that self-confidence improves when one is physically fit

We may not be able to change the world or the relentless rolling forth of the signs of the times, but we can change how we take care of ourselves, and maybe a 6-month check-in to determine weight and fitness isn’t a bad idea at all for ourselves personally, our families, and our country.


Happy Memorial Day!

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success – One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She is the owner and president at MyMiracleTea.com, an herbal detox tonic in keeping with the Word of Wisdom. She is the mother of five and the grandmother of a growing number of delightful grandsons and granddaughters and lives with her husband, Bob, in Springfield Virginia, where she serves as the Visiting Teaching District Supervisor. She has been writing for Meridian since 2007. Her favorite foods are broccoli — lots of it! and chocolate frosting … just a taste every now and then. Her book is available at both Amazon.com and her website, www.mymiracleTea.com