Pentagon test pushes some troops to liposuction

A service member who failed the so-called “tape test” struggles doing situps during a workout at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. (Associated Press)

SAN DIEGO – Soldiers often call plastic surgeon Adam Tattelbaum in a panic. They need liposuction – fast.

Some military personnel are turning to the surgical procedure to remove excess fat from their waists in a desperate attempt to pass the Pentagon’s body fat test, which relies on measurements of the neck and waist and can determine their future prospects in the military.

“They come in panicked about being kicked out or getting a demerit that will hurt their chances at a promotion,” the Rockville, Md., surgeon said.

Service members complain that the Defense Department’s method of estimating body fat weeds out not just flabby physiques but bulkier, muscular builds.

Fitness experts agree and have joined the calls for the military’s fitness standards to be revamped. They say the Pentagon’s weight tables are outdated and do not reflect that Americans are now bigger, though not necessarily less healthy.

Defense officials say the test ensures troops are ready for the rigors of combat. The military does not condone surgically altering one’s body to pass the test, but liposuction is not banned.

The Pentagon insists that only a small fraction of service members who exceed body fat limits perform well on fitness tests.

“We want everybody to succeed,” said Bill Moore, director of the Navy’s Physical Readiness Program. “This isn’t an organization that trains them and says, ‘Hey, get the heck out.’ ”

The Defense Department’s “tape test” uses neck and waist measurements rather than the body mass index, a system based on an individual’s height and weight that is widely used in the civilian world.

Those who fail are ordered to spend months in a vigorous exercise and nutrition program, which Marines have nicknamed the “pork chop platoon” or “doughnut brigade.” Even if they later pass, failing the test once can halt promotions for years, service members say.

Failing three times can be grounds for getting kicked out.

The number of Army soldiers booted for being overweight has jumped tenfold in the past five years from 168 in 2008 to 1,815. In the Marine Corps, the figure nearly doubled from 102 in 2010 to 186 in 2011 but dropped to 132 last year.

The Air Force and the Navy said they do not track discharges tied to the tape test.

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