PARKERSBURG - An Ohio man dropped more than 100 pounds over the last 17 months to qualify for military enlistment.
Lonnie Westfall said he weighed about 280 pounds when he graduated from Eastern High School in Meigs County in 2011. Westfall went to college briefly, working his way through school before deciding it wasn't for him. He considered enlisting and visited the recruiting center in Vienna.
"Recruiters told me I had to lose a few pounds, but they never tell you how much," he said.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Lonnie Westfall has lost more than 100 pounds over the last 17 months to qualify for enlistment in the U.S. Air Force.
The military has height and weight guidelines to qualify for enlistment. Westfall, who's 6-foot-2, needed to lose about 100 pounds to qualify for enlistment.
Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Strauss, a recruiter at the Grand Central Mall in Vienna, said he sees six to 10 potential recruits a week, many of whom don't qualify for entry because they are overweight or have body modifications, including tattoos.
"I couldn't tell you how many," Strauss said. "It's pretty high."
Strauss said tattoos themselves aren't a disqualifier. Vulgar tattoos are a no-no and the tattoos cannot cover more than 25 percent of an exposed area.
Strauss said the military is much different from the perception they'll take anyone.
"It's very competitive," he said. "People need the military as a career, so we can be selective."
The weight loss wasn't Westfall's only hurdle to military enlistment. He also had to undergo reconstructive surgery to correct his ears, from wearing gauges.
"There are a lot of disqualifiers anymore," Strauss said. He encourages kids to be careful with the decisions they make.
Westfall was committed to enlisting. And committed to losing weight.
"I have been big my whole life," he said. "It got to the point that it was holding me back from my future and my career. Something had to be done."
He has dropped more than a 130 pounds over the last 17 months, preparing for his career in the Air Force. Over the summer Westfall did landscaping work and got down to 230 pounds.
"Working 60-70 hours a week will take it off anyone," he said.
He's spent the last several months losing the last 30 pounds. Westfall said he got as low as 175 pounds, but at 6-2, opted to put on about 20 pounds.
"I'm staying right at 200 pounds," he said.
He's continued to exercise, but also changed his eating habits.
"I eat like I should; no sweets, no pop - though sweet tea is my weakness - nothing white, no pastas and no bread."
That's a big change for Westfall who would get double entrees at lunch from the school cafeteria. He also worked at a sandwich shop that offered free employee meals.
Strauss said it's amazing for a kid 18, 19 years old to lose that much weight.
"It is nuts," he said. "It's a good story. For kids, it's hard to get away from iPhones and stuff."
Westfall is in the delayed enlistment program and won't leave for training until next year. He plans to pursue a career working on cockpit electronics. In the meantime, he's working for his family at WeCan Fabricators in Tuppers Plains.
"It's a good story," Strauss said. "I wanted to get him some recognition."