Michelle Obama tackles childhood, military fitness at Ft. Jackson

Graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson

COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) -- Michelle Obama was in Columbia at the Army's largest training post to see how the military turns couch potato recruits into fit and healthy soldiers.

The first lady arrived Thursday to address the latest crop of new soldiers at their graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson. She was introduced to the base's physical fitness professionals in a small conference room at the drill sergeant's school.

Mrs. Obama's battle against childhood obesity intersects with the nation's need to field a fit Army.

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Since becoming the first lady, Michelle Obama has been a strong supporter of health and education for child nutrition.

"It's not just a health issue for children, it's a national security issue," Obama said Thursday.

She added that the challenge is getting everyone on board for the battle of obesity.

"You have to get the whole country behind this because it's affecting our ability to protect our freedom."

Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling briefed the first lady on how new soldiers are given exercises for core body strength and stamina. Mess halls now feature more dark greens, whole grains and no-fat milk.

Hertling says the lack of fitness in youth stems from fast food, TV and computers.

"It's a generational thing and it's going to be hard to change a whole generation," he added.

Army officials worry the nation's security is at risk because fewer than one in four 17-to-24-year-olds is fully qualified to enter the military. Officials say around 40 percent of recruits are overweight.

Fort Jackson trains more than 60,000 soldiers annually, including more than half of the Army's female soldiers.

Obama also spoke to 1,100 of soldiers graduating from Fort Jackson Thursday afternoon. She says she is proud of the Army's newest batch of troops and the families supporting them.

To wild cheers, Obama praised the families attending for letting their young men and women serve their country despite the risks.

Read the full text of the first lady's speech to graduates

The last time the First lady was in the state was three years ago leading up to the 2008 Presidential Primary. A campaign stop accompanied by Oprah Winfrey the month before drew over 30,000 people.