Some cadets sweat the details of Army weight requirements
A $125 spa day during finals week would seem like a great way to shed some academic stress for most students.
But lying in an herbal tea wrap, one student's only concern was dropping some pounds for an upcoming Army height and weight assessment.
"Making weight" has imposed far more than just a financial toll on "Carol," a 21-year-old junior who has requested anonymity.
Carol is among many females on campus who are physically fit but still struggle fitting into the weight standards of army regulations, causing them to use expensive and extreme measures in order to drop excessive amounts of weight in a short period of time, which is often unhealthy
"The craziest thing I've done was when I got one of those huge rolls of saran wrap and I had my roommate saran wrap me every night for a couple weeks before the test to see if I could sweat it out," Carol said. "That was miserable, I squeaked every time I rolled over."
"I lost 19.5 pounds in 26 days, eating zero carbohydrates; I did not eat a single one," said Sharon, a cadet who also has requested anonymity. "It was freshmen year and I didn't eat anything more than a thing of ham and a thing of turkey everyday for lunch and then I would just eat celery."
"It's just crazy that the Army allows us to put ourselves through this. Even to this day I won't eat two days before my weigh-in and I'll do sweat workouts two days before my weigh-in and I will be dehydrated enough to make the weight," Sharon said.
Many cadets in the Army are familiar with these weight loss tactics to keep their scholarship at any measure. "The only three requirements for keeping your Army scholarship are to maintain a 2.0 GPA, pass a PT (physical training) test, and to pass height and weight each semester." Carol said. "The first two are no problem."
The Army physical fitness test is designed to assess an individual's level of physical capability which Carol, and other cadets, have no problem passing.
"There have been several times when I have actually maxed a PT test (score of 300) or come close to it with a 280 or above," said Janet Roswell, a 22-year-old senior physical education major from New Hampton, N.H.
According to army regulation (AR) 600-9 which establishes the height and weight standards, some objectives of the Army weight control program (AWCP) are to "assist in establishing and maintaining discipline, operational readiness, optimal physical fitness, and health."
"I am physically fit. I can score a 270 on a PT test but weigh 163 pounds and can still lose my scholarship," said "Sharon" a 20-year-old junior. "The system is flawed."
In order to maintain regulations for weight the Army reserve officer training corps (ROTC) conducts a height and weight measurement every semester for each cadet.
"Women and men who are very physically fit that carry a high amount of muscle mass are going to weigh more because muscle is more dense," said Dr. Elizabeth Wuorinen, a specialist in exercise physiology and Norwich professor.
For this reason the Army provides a secondary test method, to determine body fat percentage, for people who do not pass the initial test requiring individuals to weigh a certain amount based on their height measurement.
"For the tape test they tape your neck, and then they tape the smallest part of your waist, and the largest part of your butt," said "Helen" a 20-year-old sophomore who also requested anonymity.
According to AR 600-9, these measurements are put into an equation that is based on population samples to determine a person's body fat percentage.
Dr. Wuorinen doesn't think the taping tests are accurate or reliable. "It doesn't correspond to anything that's been done before in terms of the development of body composition measures," Wuorinen said of the Army's method.
There are many different methods for measuring an individual's body fat percentage, according to Wuorinen.
"If they're going to do body fat percentage, they're better off doing a skin fold test which still has errors but it's better than taking a circumference," Wuorinen said. "Circumference measurements don't measure fat, they're just measuring different regions of the body."
"It seems like they should look into perhaps changing over, and doing skin fold measurements where you're actually measuring fat," Wuorinen said. "What you do is just pull the subcutaneous fat off the muscle and you take calipers and you measure how many millimeters of fat are at the site."
Wuorinen said this is a much more direct way 'of measuring fat and is much more effective than circumference measurements.
"I don't understand the significance of the neck measurement either," said Wuorinen. "If somebody has a small neck, are we all supposed to go out and work our neck to pass the tape?"
Dr. Wuorinen turns out to be right on point, because that is the method some cadets have come up with to pass this body fat percentage calculation.
"That's the key, it's to build up your neck," Helen said. "Right now my neck is a 15 inches and I'm two percent over, but if it was at 16 inches I would be perfect. I have a small skinny neck. I have to build up my neck to help me pass."
Helen noted people who obviously have a much larger body fat percentage can still pass the tape test based on the Army's body fat percentage calculations, because they have a really big neck.
"People who can't even pass their PT test can still pass height and weight," Helen said. "I work out so much, and I've seen people much bigger than me that still pass the tape test."
The cadets have all noticed there is room for error in the circumference measurement itself as well.
"It all depends on who's taping and how they think they should do it and that can drastically change just the measurement of it all," Roswell said.
The army regulation describes the taping process in detail in order to maintain a standard measuring process.
"I've been on both sides. I've been taped and I've been the taper. It all depends on who is taping you and it depends on how you interpret the rules," Roswell said. "I've read the rules on how you're supposed to do it and one time when I was taping I was told to do it another way."
Even people who have read and understand the rules are subject to a margin of error.
"It literally depends on where the tape is because you have to tape all the way around the body and it can slide," said Carol. "If the tape slides you're not going to know because you can't see the other side of someone's body."
The consequences of these inaccuracies could potentially come at a great cost.
"All you need is a couple of inches or centimeters off and it can drastically change whether or not you pass height and weight," said Roswell. "It could mean the difference between getting your tuition next semester or not."
With this at stake, the army department at Norwich allows cadets plenty of opportunities every semester to pass the height and weight test according to Sharon.
"I've had to meet weight and I've done dramatic things every semester to pass it one time, and then just be fine for the rest of the semester," Sharon said.
These cadets share countless stories of trying to lose weight and inches in a short amount of time in order to conform to the regulations.
"I've gone jogging with plastic wrap and tons of layers. I've tried diets and working out three or four times a day which really takes a toll on your body," Helen said.
Sharon and Roswell both share similar stories of unhealthy rapid weight loss.
"I don't eat and I do lots of exercise. Being the grouchiest person in the world definitely overcomes losing your scholarship or your stipend," Roswell said.
Many cadets in this situation have admitted to fully dehydrating their bodies in order to lose as much weight as possible in a short amount of time
The army ROTC department here at Norwich follows guidelines that dictate when a height and weight assessment will take place in relation to a physical fitness test according to the students.
"There have been days when you take the PT test and then the tape test right after," said Roswell. "It's been hard because you've been starving yourself for a while by then and then you have to take a PT test and you don't have any energy so you end up costing yourself almost a PT test for height and weight."
According to Dr. Wuorinen the chances are slim for someone being able to perform well on a PT test after putting their body through such rigors.
It's not just PT scores that are causing these cadets anxiety. "It's hard. I've driven myself insane before. I've literally driven myself nuts worrying about it," Carol said. "The only reason I'm here is because of the Army scholarship, I cannot afford to go to college."
Sharon explains how the stress of trying to make weight has affected her mood, her academics, and her sleep schedule during the time leading up to a weigh-in.
"There's psychological effects as well that are going to happen because people that do this regularly are going to end up with eating disorders because they are constantly trying to have to make weight," Wuorinen said.
The constant mental nagging of having to pass the tape test has left these students constantly obsessing over their body measurements.
"I even have a tape measure to tape myself every day, and a scale," said Helen. "I can calculate it all online with the body fat calculator." Roswell admits to doing the same.
According to AR 600-9, the weight measurement is supposed to be rounded up if the fraction is greater than half. Sharon is far too familiar with this half a pound.
"I was a half a pound over and it was the last day we were able to weigh in, otherwise I lose my four-year contract so I ended up going to the bathroom and I took off my undergarments and apparently that was a half a pound of undergarments. I ended up passing it," said Sharon.
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