ABOARD USS PELELIU -- U.S. Marines take great pride in distinguishing themselves above all as being basic riflemen. Promotion is determined not only by how well a Marine knows his or her job, but also by how well he or she meet physical standards and marksmanship skills.
20-year-old Lance Cpl. Jason M. Hoffman, intelligence specialist, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, was reminded of this when he conquered his struggle to lose weight and was promoted to his current rank during the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Operation Sweeney in southern Iraq after being non-recommended for promotion for several months.
According to 1st Sgt. Donald L. Jones, company first sergeant, Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, Hoffman checked into the company in December 2002 overweight and barely meeting the minimum physical fitness requirements.
"The first day I checked into battalion we ran a PFT (Physical Fitness Test)," said Hoffman. "I almost failed the run and only did four pull-ups."
Following the PFT, a weigh-in was conducted, which identified Hoffman as being 27 pounds over his maximum weight limit. He was counseled and was put on weight control.
Proficiency in his MOS was not enough. His staff non-commissioned officer confronted him about the problem and told him that knowing his job was good, but that he also had to meet the physical requirements of the Marine Corps.
In the beginning stages of his diet, Hoffman struggled to lose the weight.
"When I first was put on weight control my staff sergeant let me handle it myself," said Hoffman. "After three to four weeks of not losing any weight, he stepped in and helped me."
According to Hoffman, it was good that he was left to lose the weight on his own at first because it showed him that he didn?t know everything.
"It showed me a lot about myself and it helped me to change," he said.
Hoffman sat down with his staff sergeant, who showed him a diet plan he concocted when he needed to lose weight as a young Marine going through Marine Security Guard duty.
"Breakfast pretty much consisted of an egg-white sandwich with lunch and dinner consisting of a salad and a small meal and plenty of water," he said.
According to Hoffman, during most of the MEU's work-ups he would exercise two to three times a day, six days a week.
"As long as I kept to the diet, I was losing five to six pounds a week," he said.
According to Jones, Hoffman was proactive in improving himself. During Hoffman's battle to lose weight, he never showed any signs of discouragement.
Going through college, Hoffman, weighed almost 280 pounds. Before going to boot camp he had to lose more than 50 pounds, which was the maximum allowable weight for his 6-foot-2-inch frame.
"I graduated boot camp weighing 209, but gained it all back going through (intelligence) school," he said.
"Knowing my job is good," said Hoffman, 'but when push comes to shove every Marine is a riflemen. If I'm overweight and out of shape and it hits the fan, my fellow Marines have to know that they can count on me to be there. If I fall out during runs that's not going to give them the confidence they need in me."
Currently, Hoffman weighs 211 pounds and is in better physical shape than he was in boot camp. According to Hoffman, the help he received from his staff sergeant has helped motivate him.
"It's good to know that I have people around me that will help me out when I'm messing up," he said.
To Hoffman, the learning experience is something he plans to pass on to junior Marines who face similar challenges.
"Thankfully, Lance Cpl. Hoffman is self-motivated," said Jones. "All we had to do was let him know that his efforts to improve were being recognized. He didn't really need a big pat on the back, he does it all by himself. He's self motivated and the way this Marine is going, I wouldn't doubt it if he becomes a meritorious corporal before the end of this float."
His improved fitness also helped him prepare for MEU missions in southern Iraq last month, where temperatures routinely reached 100 degrees.
During Operation Sweeney, Hoffman participated in two humanitarian aid missions where he and his fellow Marines handed out food and water to the Iraqis.
"It was good to see the kids smile when we were giving them water and food," said Hoffman. "They don't get those things handed to them on a daily basis. It felt good to help them out."