Combatting civilian and military obesity, one push up at a time.
by Aryanna Berringer, U.S. Army veteran
When we look at perceptions of who it is that make up our American armed forces, typically the stereotype for those who most sign on the dotted line for enlistment are young, patriotic men, who want to blow stuff up. Well, I guess I wouldn’t fit your stereotype then.
You see, I grew up in an old farm house in Oregon, the youngest of nine brothers and sisters. And being the youngest of the bunch, when my parents were working there was always someone around.
My mom often worked multiple waitress jobs and my father was a hotel maintenance worker; we were a part of what is often called the working poor. Even with the long hours of work, trying to afford to put food on the table was a constant struggle for my parents.
My family relied on programs like Food Stamps and the National Free School Lunch program to ensure that there was enough to eat…and yet many days there still wasn’t. I can remember a conversation I had with my mother one late evening where she said “Aryanna, I know you have so much in you – you can be anything you want – please get an education.” I made a promise to my mother and myself that night and I knew I wouldn’t let her down.
For as hard as it was growing up, two months after 9/11, I decided to join the United States Army, because if I could handle being the youngest of all those kids I knew I could handle the rigors of what military training would be. Right?
Throughout the training exercises, deployment to Jordan to serve on the front lines on the day we invaded Iraq (yes, most people don’t know it but we had a secret special forces post in Jordan), and countless late nights, I made some of the best friends I have ever had and learned more about people, life, and making hard decisions than I would have anywhere else.
After my honorable service in the Army I began working a full-time job to support myself and soon I found out a baby was on the way. But I remember the promise I had made to my mother and myself – get an education – so I also started attending classes full-time. Over the next three years I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and gave birth to two beautiful children. Within the next two years I completed my MBA and focused on Project Management (and after that, another Masters in Public Policy).
It’s with this education that I started my own software consulting firm and with my experiences growing up, the military, my education, family, and business that I decided to take on the challenge of running for public office. In 2012, I ran for and won my party’s nomination for U.S. Congress. While I didn’t win the election – I won in so many other ways.
With election in the past, I began to reflect. Where I had come from. What I had done with my life. Where I was standing. It all came together and gave me direction for where I now wanted to go.
You see, when I joined the Army I was told I was overweight. But even though I was a competitive athlete, it all made sense. Remember, my parents weren’t focused on nutritional education. We were just happy to have food!
Our military is fat and as I have now later learned, it is wreaking havoc on our national security. So because 1 in 4 young adults are now considered “too fat to fight,” 51% of our current military ranks are considered overweight, I decided to do something about it. I started an organization to combat obesity.
At One Push Up, we are working toward two goals that we hope someday will intertwine.
First, that school lunch our kids are eating is not just hurting them, but it is how they are developing their life-long eating habits. So we’re reaching out to schools in order to implement farm-to-school programs, all for the sake of improving our national security.
We’re also in the process of raising money that will provide grants and scholarships to veterans who want to become farmers or who are already farmers and need some assistance. Have you figured out how this all works together yet?
This comprehensive approach to local community engagement; more schools using their purchasing power to procure their food from local farmers while moving more veterans into the farming vocation will create an endless cycle of positive community-based economic growth . . . not just financial economies but social, health and educational.
We often have an idea of what it means to be successful and it goes something like this: finish high school, attend a good college, get a college degree, start a job in your field of choice, and make as much money as you can, get married, have kids, and teach them to do the same.
I may not have followed the traditional path to success and there have certainly been bumps, twists, U-turns, and even some pretty high mountains but through it all I have tried my hardest to define what success means to me and work towards that – and that is what I teach my children.
Break those stereotypes. They’re boring.
Hunger for your passion, fight for the little gal, do good, and your success will be evident in those around you.
Aryanna Berringer is an Iraq war veteran, mom of three awesome kids, writer, advocate, Project Manager by day, founder One Push Up.