Editor’s note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.

As the Fourth of July approaches, we rightly celebrate our great nation’s independence and remember the time that 13 upstart colonies took the fight to a larger more powerful military and won their freedom.

Although many factors lead to the birth of our nation, one factor that gets overshadowed is the military fitness brought to a “sick, cold and hungry cabal” of Americans at Valley Forge by a Prussian named Frederick von Steuben. His arrival in February 1778, and the techniques he brought with him, marked “a singularly important event relative to future physical training in the U.S. Army,” wrote Dr. Whitfield “Chip” East in A Historical Review and Analysis of Army Physical Readiness Training and Assessment.

It was the fitness that provided the fuel for our nation’s freedom. More than a century and a half later, the Victory Corps of the 1940s recognized that fitness remained essential for maintaining that freedom. The plan was “Victory through Fitness” at the youth level, and as one general put it, “Young people in high school must be trained specifically to become better warriors.”

And now? We’ve gotten soft. Three out four military-age young adults are physically incapable of serving in the military. And the fitness of those who can and do serve isn’t much more encouraging. Consider:

  • For the amount of money the military spends on treating weight-related diseases every single year, it could buy the Chicago Cubs.
  • While rogue nations and terrorism are in the national security spotlight, our biggest threat is our own culture of idleness and excess.
  • While all this is going on, our grandparents are rolling in their graves, secure in the knowledge that they surely could and would kick our ass.

The time for resting on our laurels is over. Do you consider yourself a “tactical athlete”? Do you consider yourself a patriot? If you are deconditioned and dormant, you are neither.

Instead, you are a liability — a liability in a tactical situation or a liability on a health care system. You have drastically increased the odds that someone or some sickness will be able to kill you. The same sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary habits that will destroy your arteries will also distend your shot groups when it counts.

The pursuit of fitness is critical for troops who want to support their fellow service members, and for veterans who want to assist their families and communities, the author writes. Here, soldiers participate in a Run for the Fallen on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2014. (Spc. Ariel Solomon/Army)
The pursuit of fitness is critical for troops who want to support their fellow service members, and for veterans who want to assist their families and communities, the author writes. Here, soldiers participate in a Run for the Fallen on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2014. (Spc. Ariel Solomon/Army)

Your body’s unaccustomed response to physical exertion will make engaging the enemy, making the arrest, fighting the fire, saving the life and taking care of your family even more difficult. You’ve put yourself, your team and your family in greater danger.

Now is the time to look in the mirror and honestly assess whether you are a liability or an asset.

Although our level of fitness will not always determine our fate, it many times will allow us the option to retaliate. We can fight back. We can counterpunch. We can stand over our enemy, our disease, or our personal demons and ask, “Is that all you got?”

We can be an asset and not a liability. We can be the hardest person anyone or anything has ever tried to kill.

This Independence Day, make a choice not to rest on the laurels of yesteryear. Choose to improve — to be ready for whatever trial life throws your way. Refuse to fail your comrades. Refuse to fail your children.

You are representing an insurrection against inactivity. So while you should enjoy this holiday and all it represents, in the spirit of declarations, declare your own personal independence from indolence. Whether your goal is to lose weight, lift more, run your fastest time, or just start exercising, it all starts now.

Nick Barringer is an Army officer who works in the field of nutrition and human performance.