A new soldier shed nearly 140 pounds in 18 months to join the California Army National Guard.
Aaron Stevenson of Vallejo, California, struggled with his weight since childhood. A self-described home body, he enjoyed reading and playing video games. In adulthood, he worked as a butcher at Safeway.
“I had dibs on all the select cuts,” he joked.
Food quickly became Stevenson’s go-to when he was stressed or tired.
“It was my happy place,” he said. “When you have a bad day, you can go to a store and get some cakes to feel better. That was a real outlet for me.”
That coping method soon took over, landing him at fast food joints two or three times a day.
“I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as much as I wanted,” Stevenson said. “I was living the dream for a while until I woke up, and it had turned into a nightmare.”
At 5 feet 9 inches, he topped out at 354 pounds. Adrian, Stevenson’s best friend from childhood, also struggled with his weight. They would often talk about losing the pounds together, but their conversations never moved into action — that is until Adrian died of a heart attack a little over two years ago.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through; I really can’t describe it,” said Stevenson. “I still think about Adrian every day.”
At the time, Stevenson had an infant son. He had been raised by a single mother and didn’t want that lifestyle for his child. Adrian left behind two young daughters, and Stevenson realized he could do the same if he didn’t get control of his everyday habits.
“I want to make sure I’m there for my son and give him a good example so he won’t have to go through same things I went through,” Stevenson said.
Plus, he had always wanted to join the military — but Stevenson knew he would never qualify until he shed the excess weight.
He got to work, gradually. The first six weeks, he did no exercise whatsoever. He just stopped eating junk and lost 30 pounds. With the help of his fiancée, he started planning nutritious meals at home and went on walks. Within a few months, he could ride a bike and elliptical trainer.
“Every day, I would try to progress a little bit more,” he said.
Stevenson began calling local military recruiters from multiple branches. Even though he was down to 287 at that point, they all told him, “No, you’re too big.” That is until he reached Staff Sgt. Andrew Romano, a Vallejo-based recruiter.
“Sgt. Romano actually gave me the time of day and encouraged me that if I do get down a little bit more, he’ll help me out and get me in,” Stevenson said. “When I finally got down to 240, we started going ahead with process, I had a couple other recruiters reach out to me then, and I’m like, ‘No, thank you!’”
Today, Stevenson weighs 215 pounds — and is still slimming down through healthy eating and daily movement. He officially swore in on June 21, 2021, and leaves for BT and AIT at Fort Leonard Wood in October to be a Motor Transport Operator for the 2632nd Transportation Company in Sacramento.
Stevenson says the Guard is opening up numerous opportunities for his family.
“I just want to be the best I can be. I want to secure a positive future for my son and my family,” Stevenson said. “I want him to know that it’s never too late to hit the reset button. Anything can be done with hard work and self-accountability.”