Blog | November 30, 2021

Strong Kids, Strong Nutrition, Strong Nation

Part of Mission: Readiness’ mission is to help prepare young people to qualify to enter the military if they so choose. Lack of physical fitness is one of the leading reasons that the opportunities afforded by military service are off the table for nearly three-quarters of American youth.

Major General (Ret.) Steven Lepper, U.S. Air Force

Our Nation’s Health

The nutritional quality of our food, and a growing obesity epidemic, are critical issues that increasingly affect national security. Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Rich Gross, host of the Mission: Readiness Podcast, has a personal and professional connection to this issue. Last summer, he invited an old friend, retired U.S. Air Force Major General Steven Lepper, on the podcast to discuss the national security importance of child health and nutrition, and the threat that obesity poses to military recruitment. Both General Gross and General Lepper experienced childhood obesity, though neither of them knew that about the other prior to sitting down to talk. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to listen to this entire podcast episode. Each leader provides nuanced, personal insight into why our nation’s children should not have to struggle with nutrition early in life, and why improper nutrition poses a threat to our national security.

Major General (Ret.) Steven Lepper
Major General (Ret.) Steven Lepper, U.S. Air Force

Obesity in Early Life and Later Transformation to Fitness as a Way of Life

Growing up, General Gross was an overweight child whose grandparents survived the Great Depression. His post-Depression-Era parents instilled in him a nutritional values system influenced by that history. As he puts it, their reasoning was, “Well, if you’ve got the food, you should eat it.” General Gross recalls being praised as a child for “cleaning my plate” and asking for additional food at his grandmother’s house. General Lepper had a similar experience. From the earliest time he could remember until he entered the military, he struggled with serious weight issues. He conquered those issues as part of his military training and never regressed. Similar to General Gross, food insecurity was prevalent in his parents’ childhood, and, perhaps because weight was considered a sign of health in wartime, these values strongly influenced his upbringing. Each military leader readily recognized that losing the weight was very difficult, and that they continue to struggle with this daily, but the struggle is worthwhile. They also agreed that, if we raise new generations of children exercising healthy habits from the start, more young people will be better prepared to enter the military, or other professions, and to flourish.

Brigadier General (Ret.) Rich Gross
Brigadier General (Ret.) Rich Gross, U.S. Army

Early Investing in Nutrition and National Security

Maintaining physical fitness, passing related tests, and meeting weight standards in the military have been career realities for both General Gross and General Lepper. Each has found a way to build a life of healthy habits. Each has also become a vocal advocate of nutrition, fitness, and healthy living. General Gross continues to host insightful conversations on the Mission: Readiness Podcast about the importance of preparing youth for healthy futures. General Lepper is increasingly invested in the connection between financial stress and unhealthy food choices in his role as President & CEO of the Association of Military Banks of America. The programs and policies they champion, promoting access to nutritious foods, as well as healthy eating and physical fitness habits, are vital for our nation’s children and for national security. We look forward to continuing our partnership with them both.

It’s important that we strengthen federal nutrition programs that prepare children for success. With kids receiving up to half of their calories during the school day, school cafeterias are key in the fight against the growing child obesity epidemic. Coupled with nutrition education and better physical education, we can prepare more kids to succeed in life and secure our future national security.

Brigadier General (Ret.) Rich Gross, U.S. Army