Friday, February 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> LRAFB shows Mrs. Obama its right stuff

By John Hofheimer
Leader senior staff writer

Good nutrition and physical fitness are vital not just to good health, but to national security, Michelle Obama said at Little Rock Air Force Base on Thursday afternoon—and amongst the military, those at LRAFB are leading the way, she told those assembled at the base’s Hercules Dining Facility.

“You are 95 percent in compliance with what’s going to be happening already,” to improve nutrition in the military, in schools and through-out the nation, she said. “You’re ahead of the curve. This is due to the foresight of your commanders.

“For the first time in 20 years, the DOD is updating their nutritional standards to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products with every meal,” Obama said.

“This isn’t a drop in the bucket, this is a big splash,” she said.

Response from the airmen has been quite positive, according to 19th Airlift Wing commander Col. Brian (Smokey) Robinson, supporting that conclusion with a couple of Power Point graphs.

Looking fit and healthy, Mrs. Obama received a briefing from Robinson, Col. Ray Jeter of the 19th Medical Group, Brig. Gen. Eden Murrie, director of Air Force Services, as well as the contracting firm that provides more nutritious foods and others.

“We came up with something that sounds familiar,” Robinson told the first lady. “It’s from your ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign, but we call it the Rock Plate lunch.
“So the dieticians and the chefs got together and figured out how to make a meal that consists of lean protein, non-starchy vegetables that’s well balanced, well presented and tasteful, so that it would make our airmen want to partake of that meal. And that’s been very, very successful,” Robinson said.

The military spends more than $4 billion on feeding its service members and an additional $1.2 billion on addressing obesity problems.

Let’s Move! program

In a cross-promotional effort on the second of three stops Thursday on her four-day tour in support of her “Let’s Move!” program, the first lady shone the light on steps taken at the base to improve the quality and nutrition of the food served on base. It’s not only more nutritious and less expensive to the military, but the hours that the dining hall are open are much greater and the food is now available not only to airmen but to their families and retirees.

“Let’s Move!” was launched Feb. 9, 2010, with the intent to fight childhood obesity. Since its launch, the initiative has made significant progress in its efforts, has been made to solve the problem of childhood obesity.

Other stops on her three-day tour included a kick-off in Des Moines, Iowa, Fort Worth and Dallas, as well as Homestead, Orlando and Longwood, Fla.

LRAFB is one of six bases involved in the Food Transformation Initiative to make healthful, nutritious and appealing food available to service members and their families.

The other bases in the pilot program are Patrick Air Force Base and MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Travis Air Force Base in California, Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington and Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.

The dining facility here has more than doubled its weekly hours of operation from 53 to 112 hours. The base has made $700,000 in improvements, and yet still managed to lower costs by 7 percent through a contract with Aramark, a private food service company.

The Defense Department will evaluate every military base in the country to make sure they’re serving healthy food to service members and families.

“They’ll be looking to improve the food served in dining facilities, school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars,” she said.

More than a quarter of 17- to 24-year-olds are too overweight to serve in the armed forces today, according to an Army study.

Mrs. Obama said exercise and good nutrition are what “Let’s Move!” is all about. “It’s about mobilizing folks from every sector of our society to address our obesity epidemic.”

OBESITY Costs keep rising

The Defense Department spends “about $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion a year in obesity-related health issues,” said Dr. Jonathan Woodson. Woodson, described as the military’s “top doc,” is assistant to the secretary of defense for Health Affairs. He announced Thursday the Military Health System’s new obesity and nutrition awareness campaign.

“The military has always taken a lead in terms of setting standards for the nation,” said Woodson. “In 1947, after it was found that many recruits were undernourished coming in, the school lunch program was born.”

He said the military now has the opportunity to take the lead in battling obesity, which he said is a national challenge.

One example of the strategy is the Rock Plate Lunch, which usually includes a lean meat and vegetables low in carbohydrates. Airmen can still pick and choose among offerings of various entrees and sides–fried as well as grilled chicken strips, for instance–but they can also ask for the Rock Plate and get a healthy meal plated for them.

“The Rock Plate (makes healthy choices) without you knowing what we did to you,” said Brig. Gen. Eden Murrie, the Pentagon’s director of Air Force Services, who was on hand for the event.

The Rock Plate concept will soon be expanded to breakfast and dinner menus.

Healthier choices around the base

Little Rock Air Force Base personnel also have healthier choices at the golf course and bowling center snack bars and another dining facility, Hangar 1080.

Murrie told the first lady that Little Rock Air Force Base would be getting a POD–that’s provisions on demand–on the flight line. PODs, which provide hot and cold prepared meals quickly like Chili’s To Go at major airports. They have proven “incredibly popular” at Travis Air Force Base and Elmendorf Joint Operations Base, where they were pioneered. Since September the PODs already served 100,000 meals.

“We’re working hard to make healthy sexy,” which will help build a healthier Air Force, Murrie said.

Robinson told the first lady that education and execution are the ways to influence behavioral change in the approach to nutrition and fitness.

He said the key to execution was to make the food “appealing, healthy, affordable, accessible and nutritional.”

“The center point of our collaboration (between us and Aramark) was when our dietitians from the Health and Wellness Center got together with the executive chefs from Aramark and said, ‘how can we make this better,’” Robinson said.

“The result was “something that sounds familiar that’s from your “Let’s Move!” campaign, but we call it the Rock Plate lunch.

“You all look really good. I have to say, you are all looking really fit. So thanks for eating your vegetables, we all need you really fit. If we do our part…we can put this country on a stronger, healthier future,” Mrs. Obama said. “This is a serious problem. This is really about our kids. If you do the right thing, they’re going to follow suit.”

The first lady thanked the airmen telling them “I want you to keep eating your vegetables. You are the best this country has to offer.”

She said she was troubled to learn that the country spends millions of dollars every year on dental care because of poor nutrition.

Meeting airmen

After the presentation, Mrs. Obama spent more than half an hour greeting airmen who were finishing lunches that included sizzling chicken, roast turkey, steamed broccoli and Greek salad. Most plates were pretty clean, some had a little leftover broccoli.

Of the first lady’s visit, “I was excited but nervous,” said Airman First Class Aaron K. Dahlstrom. “The food is an improvement.”

Airman Alfredo Lara-Marques, a 19th Aircraft Maintenance crew chief, said, “It was very informative. It’s an honor to have her here. I think it’s (the food transformation initiative) going to have a big impact. I have younger siblings who look up to what I do.”

1st Lt. Chris McGillen, a C-130J first pilot with the 41st Airlift Squadron, said, “I thought it was excellent, very motivating. It’s an excellent opportunity for all of us.”

Airman Michelle Bonnin, a Component Maintenance Squadron C-130 engine mechanic, said, “It was very enjoyable and informative.”

Airman First Class Kashmere Patterson, a public health specialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., said after meeting Mrs. Obama, “I think it’s a good plan because everyone is getting bigger.”

Patterson was pleased to have met the first lady, who complimented her on her manicured nails.

“Just being here. I never thought this would happen to me,” Patterson said.

Leader staff writers Christy Hendricks, Jonathan Feldman and Garrick Feldman contributed to this report.