Columbus Men Lose 370 Pounds; Join U.S. Army

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Two Columbus area men could have been contestants on a popular reality TV show called “The Biggest Loser.” Instead of money, these men won an opportunity to serve their country.

It’s Friday afternoon and a young man and his mother listen to a recruiter talk about all the reasons why the 18-year-old should enlist in the United States Army.

“The Army is something that I thought I’d just be doing for a few years but ten years later it feels like three years and I tell you what it flies by,” the recruiter said.

While this 18-year-old, provided he has no serious health or legal issues, will likely find himself in basic training soon, many others will not. Sergeant Michael Kyle, a recruiter on West Broad Street, says only about three out of ten people interested in joining are able to enlist. Legal and health troubles are top disqualifiers.

“But they can come back. You know, they can fix their issues and come back,” Kyle said.

That’s just what Robert Thompson did. Twenty-one years ago he could not get in the Army. Now at the age of 39 Thompson’s getting what he’s always wanted. But he had to lose some weight first.

“One night I was laying in bed, basically just watching TV, and had to look over my stomach to see the TV. And I said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Thompson said.

Looking at Thompson now one would never guess he used to weigh 410 pounds.

Thompson said before he lost the weight most mornings he would wake up sore and tired. Climbing a flight of stairs would easily wind him.

“It was horrible. So I just made the determination, ‘Hey, I’m going to lose this weight.’ So in the thought process of why I was losing the weight it gave me a goal to strive myself forward, too; and I decided to join the Army,” he said.

Thompson has lost 232 pounds as of September 25. And it took him:

“Twelve months. [One year.] One year. I worked out two hours a day, seven days a week doing cardio, doing muscle building, just watching what I ate,” Thompson said.

Staff Sergeant Steve Wahlbring is a recruiter at the Sawmill Road office. He put Thompson in the Army. Walhbring said it’s not uncommon for people to have to lose a little weight to get in the service, but he said 232 pounds is unheard of…

“We got guys who have tried and fail. I’ve seen a guy lose 50 pounds, but that’s the most I’ve seen since I’ve been here. And Robert was just bound and determined,” Wahlbring said.

One might honor Thompson with the title “the biggest loser,” or winner, in this case. But he’s not alone.

25-years-old James Parrish, who recently signed up for the Army, used to describe himself as a “really big guy.” His weight topped at 340 pounds.

“I was really big,” Parrish laughed.

Parrish said he looked in the mirror one day and did not recognize himself. So he started riding his bike, walking and cutting out junk food and sodas. Parish said he always considered joining the Army. But he wanted to lose the weight first.

“Because I would just be like all embarrassed and they’d be like ‘no dude, are you serious? How much do you weigh?’ So I just waited until I got my weight down,” he said.

Parish started losing weight in May. He’s dropped almost 140 pounds.

Now Parrish and Thompson leave for basic training after the first of the year. Thompson will drive trucks and humvees. Parish, who said he loves the culinary arts, will be a food service specialist. While both men say the education from their service could lead to careers in the civilian world they indicate a military career is a possibility. But Thompson and Parrish will have to make it through basic training first. And Thompson, who is old enough to be the dad of some of the men and women he’ll train with, said he looks forward to it.

“Hopefully they’ll all look up to me because I’m going to push myself 110 percent the whole time I’m there,” Thompson said.