Texas State Guard accused of ‘fat shaming’, inconsistent weight rules

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A high-ranking Texas State Guard officer received the boot because it was deemed too heavy, according to emails — even though other members of the same physical fitness or heavier were allowed to stay, a KXAN investigation found.

“I don’t understand why they expel people who have gained weight?” said Lt. Col. Cendy Brister-Antley. “Are we suddenly less intelligent because we have gained weight?

After nearly 13 years in the Texas State Guard, Brister-Antley was kicked out of her volunteer desk job, according to emails, because of her weight. A nurse and administrative officer, she joined because she felt it was a calling and a duty to serve our state.

“I was only the second woman to serve as a regimental plans and operations officer,” she said.

Whether providing emergency and disaster relief or patrolling the border, the Texas State Guard is a noncombatant volunteer forcewithout authority to enforce the law, whose motto is: “Texans Serving Texans”.

Now Brister-Antley, a Georgetown resident, feels the State Guard isn’t serving her and other overweight military personnel. She contacted KXAN saying she was “big shame” and forced to leave. She pushes for a change in policy, accusing the State Guard of selectively following its own rules.

KXAN met Brister-Antley outside of Camp Mabry in Austin, home to the Texas Military Department and the Texas State Guard, where she worked.

“We didn’t get paid for it,” she said, noting that she drove for a time five hours one way to Midland just to volunteer her time.

“So my question is, why are they kicking out volunteers? ” she asked.

Weighting rules applied “inconsistently”

Although she received honors and praise for her intellect, she was fired because her body mass index was too high, records show. At the time, she was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 263 pounds. The State Guard calculated his BMI, which is used to determine obesity, as 40. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify anything over 30 as obese. A BMI of 40 or more is considered “severe”, according to the CDC and triggers an automatic honorable discharge, according to State Guard policy.

“If they marked your BMI at 40, you signed up for the [Texas State] Guard, you knew what you were getting into and what the rules were,” KXAN investigator Matt Grant said. “Why shouldn’t you have been released?” »

“Because,” Brister-Antley replied, “it wasn’t 40 BMI.”

Brister-Antley highlights the CDC online calculator widget, which shows that her BMI was actually 39.98. The state guard “rounded up” to 40, she said. If her BMI was below 40, she would have been allowed to stay and receive weight loss advice, as per policy.

“I was not given the opportunity, per their own policy, to participate in their medical weight loss program,” she said, still frustrated more than a year later. “I was told: ‘Your [BMI is] 40, you are out.

Brister-Antley was honorably discharged in February last year, records show.

“It is without much pleasure that I have to enforce the physical fitness standards we have adopted in preparation for tomorrow’s State Guard,” Brig. General Joe Cave in an email. “You are encouraged to assess your personal health situation, and I hope that I can soon welcome you back to the State Guard family. We will miss your intellect and guidance, but I hope it does not will only be for a short time.

The Texas Military Department’s Inspector General investigated and agreed to the dismissal, but found at least one other member of the State Guard “non-compliant” with weight rules at the same time but “cleared to remain active” at all way.

Some senior officials were concerned about the policy, which was developed in 2018, according to internal emails obtained by KXAN. In one, a deputy commanding general wrote that “inaccurate scales” were allegedly used and complained of “inconsistencies” in how and when the weight policy is applied.

Cendy Brister-Antley pictured at a weigh-in at the Texas State Guard (Courtesy Cendy Brister-Antley)

The fact that the policy is not “generally” enforced, he said, has led some officials to express concerns about “the perception of targeting” of some members.

“Make sure the rules are applied to everyone and be transparent about it,” a command sergeant major wrote a month after Brister-Antley was released.

Since January of last year, 13 State Guard members across the state have been fired because of their weight, officials said. However, a BMI list for members from February 2020, which Brister-Antley obtained and provided to KXAN, shows at least 15 members with a BMI of 40 or more, suggesting that more should have been released under the policy. .

“I think it’s discrimination,” Brister-Antley said.

KXAN asked the State Guard how many members receive weight loss counseling. Officials would only say that the number “fluctuates” each month. Since it started tracking the data a year ago, the highest month was last November at 214. The lowest was last September at 113, officials said. KXAN requested additional monthly data but did not receive it.

State Guard officials did not respond to KXAN’s questions about the emails, the accuracy of its scales, why some members who did not comply with the weights would have been allowed to stay, or why the weight of Brister-Antley was “rounded”. Instead, the department defended his ousting, saying it was “in accordance” with policies ensuring the Texas military department is “always ready.”

“All service members are held accountable for maintaining compliance with its requirements, policies, and regulations, to ensure that the Texas Military Department is always ready and always there to support the citizens of Texas when called upon. “, officials from the Texas Military Department said in a written statement.

Senior State Guard leaders defended the policy, writing that this “welfare program” is necessary to “take care of our most important resource, our people.”

“The health and fitness of individuals compromising the Texas State Guard directly impacts our ability to respond effectively to state and local emergencies,” read an email sent to all members in 2018. “A common and visible indicator of health and well-being is a person’s weight relative to their height.”

Members who fail to meet weight standards have two years to “work toward compliance,” the email states.

The policy was changed last June to eliminate this two-year deadline for weight loss. It now states that members with a BMI of less than 40 “may continue to serve in TXSG if they continue to make satisfactory progress in losing weight.”

KXAN checked and found the Public Safety Departmentwhich is responsible for statewide vehicle enforcement and regulation, has no such weight requirements.

“DPS does not have a weight requirement for commissioned personnel,” DPS spokeswoman Ericka Miller said. The DPS does have weight restrictions for commissioned officers, however. Men must have a waist circumference “less than 40 inches” and women “less than 35 inches,” according to DPS policy.

The Army National Guard and Air National Guard, which are military reserve forces, require members to meet physical fitness standards set by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force “based on category of fitness. respective age of an individual,” military officials said.

“BMI is not necessarily a requirement or an issue unless it affects their readiness,” said Army spokesman Maj. Matthew Murphy. “For example, we have members who are competitive bodybuilders. They wouldn’t meet BMI standards, but they are in good shape.

Texas state guard officials wouldn’t say if Brister-Antley would be welcome, which she hopes. She says her weight has no impact on her ability to do her job.

Right now, the only thing that weighs, she says, is her heart.

“This is my chance to serve,” Brister-Antley said. “Everyone gives back in their own way and this is mine.”

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