By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derien C. Luce, Officer Training Command Public Affairs
NEWPORT, R.I. – A Phillipsburg, New Jersey native and a Craig, Nebraska native, two recent students at Officer Training Command in Newport, Rhode Island (OTCN) started independent weight loss journeys months before Officer Candidate School (OCS) even began in order to qualify for selection.
Ensign Michelle Buchanan, who graduated OCS on Dec. 18, and Officer Candidate Jeremiah Dixon, scheduled to graduate Jan. 29, both spent the last 12 months training and dieting on their own to qualify for OCS. Before arriving to OCS, they said they each lost more than 100 pounds.
“I knew my weight was a problem, but I wasn’t really taking big steps to make a change,” said Buchanan. Before she made the decision to join the Navy, she was looking to start a career in law enforcement, but was unable to leave her current security job. “My grandmother actually suggested when I started the security job and I wasn’t getting into law enforcement to look at the military, and so I started my research and I decided I’m going to lose all this weight and I’m going to join the Navy.”
Once Buchanan made the decision, she immediately made several lifestyle changes.
“The next day, I stopped eating the garbage that I used to eat and I started eating healthier,” said Buchanan. “I started to exercise at home, joined a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program and kept pushing myself. …eventually I was able to start running 5Ks by myself without struggling.”
Dixon began his weight loss journey with a desire to travel while pursuing his career and ultimately decided to join the Navy. According to him, weighing 293 pounds kept him from meeting his goal.
“I wanted to join the [Navy’s] civil engineering corps and wanted the opportunity to explore the world while I’m still young,” said Dixon. “After leaving the recruiting office, I started getting phone calls from officers who had information on how I can lose the weight.”
Buchanan credits her motivation primarily to her desire to join the Navy, but there was another element pushing her to reach her goal.
“It was also for my own overall health,” said Buchanan. “Being 280 pounds is not good on your joints, obviously, and you find yourself winded just going up a flight of stairs. I wanted to reach my goal of joining the Navy but it’s also for my own well-being.”
Dixon is already seeing how those types of benefits from his weight loss can help him in OCS.
“I was overweight in grad school, constantly sleepy behind the desk… I wasn’t really motivated to take on new tasks or help out other colleagues,” said Dixon. “Now I feel more energized because I’m in a more physically fit body, I’m more active and awake, and I see myself completing tasks I would have thought were overbearing at this time last year.”
One resource Dixon used to help him with the nutrition portion of his weight loss was the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series (NOFFS) application on his cell phone.
“I used the [smartphone application] as a tracker and it was great to monitor how much I should be eating to meet my goal,” said Dixon. “I would definitely recommend it to others.”
The NOFFS app provides the Navy with “best in class” physical fitness and nutrition information for Sailors, allowing the Navy to maintain peak physical readiness, which is a top priority of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative. The program can be tailored to any environment or fitness level, allowing all Sailors to benefit from the program.
Buchanan and Dixon attribute their successes to also having a group of friends or family to encourage and support them.
“I’m lucky I have a very supportive family and a very good network of people who were supportive of my decision, not only to join the military, but to try and take on that big task of losing all that weight,” said Buchanan. “I’ve been blessed with having that really good support structure from the very beginning.”
“The biggest struggle for me was that as I got closer to my goal the weight started coming off slower,” said Dixon. “In the beginning, I was losing about 10 pounds each month. Once I got to about 230 pounds, I only lost two or three pounds a month. That’s when my family’s motivation was most important for reminding me of my goals.”
Both Sailors reached their weight loss goals because of their dedication.
“Don’t ever think that you can’t do something,” said Buchanan. “Nothing is going to be handed to you, put your mind to it and put in the work.”
“There were times when I had to remind myself to just keep working at it,” said Dixon. “The key thing I want people to think about when hearing my story is to keep on believing in themselves, because success will come to you, it will work.”
Chief Boatswain’s Mate Gary McCoy, command fitness leader for Officer Training Command in Newport, Rhode Island, said it is common for otherwise qualified officer candidates to struggle in the beginning of their fitness program because of a lack of physical training preparation.
“The physical training at OTCN is high intensity,” said McCoy. “If you come to the program unprepared, you will struggle. The high-risk training evolutions can be dangerous for an unhealthy person. We ensure all candidates conduct proper exercises and stretches, while receiving the proper nutrition.”
OTCN morally, mentally and physically develops future leaders of character and competence – imbuing them with the highest ideals of honor, courage and commitment in order to serve as professional Naval officers worthy of special trust and confidence.