Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Sommerdyke spent $12,000 on two liposuction surgeries last spring. She was running eight to 10 miles, six days a week. She even switched to a starvation diet. It was all part of a last-ditch effort to trim her waistline to the 35.5-inch maximum for female airmen. She gave birth to her second child two years ago, and her midsection never quite recovered.
Sommerdyke is 5-foot-7 and has plenty of muscle and “the bone structure of a guy,” she said. She can pass the other portions of the Air Force’s strict physical training (PT) requirements: the run, the push-ups and the sit-ups. But her 37-inch waistline – not her weight – is her problem.
“I hate having to treat my body this way,” said Sommerdyke. “I lose strength and stamina, and it takes a toll on the mental health as well, which seems to be contrary to what we should really be pushing for: health and strength for flight-line work and deployments.”
It is no surprise that the military services require a high degree of physical fitness, and the vast majority of service members can pass those tests. But the military also has weight limits based on height, age and sex. If a soldier’s weight or waistline is over the limit during twice-a-year fitness testing, he or she is given two months to lose the excess.
Thirty-five percent of male soldiers do not meet the weight standards, and 6 percent of all soldiers exceed body-fat standards, according to a 2009 report published in the journal Military Medicine. The report said that about 24,000 Army personnel were discharged between 1992 and 2007 for failure to comply with weight standards.