Be All That You Can Eat? Not in This Army

Servicemen ousted for excessive girth say the Pentagon took more than their dignity - and they're suing.

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When the battleship keeps listing to one side -- and they're not serving Colombian coffee on the port deck. When your men call you "Ol' Blood 'n' Guts" -- and they leave off the "Blood." When your K rations take up most of the alphabet. When it takes two divisions to surround your flank. When the entire army marches on your stomach. These are the times when you may be too fat to be in the military. But 15 soldiers, sailors and airmen kicked out of the services for losing the Battle of the Bulge aren't complaining about their discharges (which were honorable). They just want their pound of flesh.

The group -- including one ex-sailor who joined when the Navy had no weight requirement -- has launched a class-action lawsuit against the military for rescinding their enlistment bonuses along with their commissions. The case was certified as a federal class-action lawsuit in Maine, and has just been transferred to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington. And the Pentagon is sweating. The Army alone forced more than 14,000 from its ranks between 1990 and 1996 for being heavier than the heavy artillery, and the other branches may face a backlash of comparable numbers. It could get expensive. Michael Feldman, a lawyer for the servicemen, said the Navy's only grounds for recouping the bonuses are misconduct, failure to perform duties or voluntary separation. "In effect, you can throw me out at any time if you think I'm overweight," Feldman said. "But don't take my bonus."