Traffic around Fort Jackson — always heavy on basic training graduation days — will be even more challenging today as first lady Michelle Obama attends the ceremony.
Her comments during the 1 p.m. graduation, which is open to the public, will follow a full slate of events aimed at highlighting childhood obesity and how it affects military readiness. Fort Jackson is the Army’s largest basic training facility.
Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the U.S. Army’s deputy commanding general for initial military training, will brief Obama this morning about the effect of childhood obesity, poor childhood nutrition and lack of physical exercise on military recruitment and Army programs that address those issues. Obama also will tour the base and visit Fort Jackson’s “Go for Green” dining program, which encourages healthy eating.
She will then be the guest speaker for the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment’s graduation ceremony at 1 p.m. on Hilton Field.
“Fort Jackson is extremely proud to host this visit,” Maj. Gen. James Milano, the fort’s commander, said. “The first lady is very interested in several topics that we consider vital to national interest These are important issues, and we deal with them daily.”
Only about one-quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 can qualify to get into the military, due primarily to weight, as well as moral, medical and educational challenges, Milano said.
“And it’s getting worse, not better,” he said. “Combat training is tough, and it is much tougher on volunteer soldiers who are overweight, out of shape due to inactive life styles and don’t know how to eat smartly. It’s a national security issue.”
Obama also will meet at the fort with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who said the city is prepared to adopt the “Let’s Move!” program.
“We’re always delighted to have the first lady of the United States in Columbia,” he said. “But we are especially pleased to hear her message. A healthy community is a productive community, and if we are going to go from good to great as a city our people need to be healthy and productive.”
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