By By Master Sgt. Chance Babin
/ Published January 31, 2019
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- When Florentino Concepcion III walked into the Air Force Reserve Recruiting Office in Philadelphia in March to ask about joining, he stood 5-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed 264 pounds. He was obviously over the weight limit, but the young man was not deterred.
“When Concepcion first came in, he was visibly over the maximum allowable weight, and in all honesty, I was looking to tactfully dismiss him fairly quickly,” said Master Sgt. Jared Lacovara, a line recruiter in Philadelphia, who is assigned to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
“My senior recruiter, Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Bachman, who was here conducting an office visit, asked him to come in and began to ask him for more information. Once it was clear how motivated he was, and that he’d already taken steps to lose a significant amount of weight, I set up some future calls so we could stay in touch.”
Concepcion had already lost 33 pounds before even reaching out to a recruiter. At his heaviest, he weighed 297 pounds.
“When I first walked in the recruiting office I weighed 264 pounds,” Concepcion said. “Master Sgt. Lacovara said he appreciated the fact that I wanted to join but at 5-foot 8-inches I would have to weigh 180 pounds or less. Senior Master Sgt. Bachman told me if I could get to 200 pounds, come back and see him.”
Now he knew what had to be done and nothing was going to stop him from losing the weight.
Before Concepcion left the recruiting office, Bachman explained the body fat measurement standards and told Concepcion if he was able to get within 20 percent, even if he was over the weight limit, recruiting could work with him.
“That seemed to give Concepcion a little spark,” Lacovara said.
His desire to join the military was based primarily on his desire to work in the medical field and his strong yearning to assist others.
“I have a passion for helping others and giving the best health tips and advice,” Concepcion said. “I also want to strive for excellence in the health care field and in any other career I choose to pursue and keep that integral and excellent attitude with me.”
Additionally, the benefits of joining the Reserve and getting tuition assistance and quality training in the medical field drew him to the Air Force Reserve.
“I spoke to some military veterans and was told the best branch to join would be the Air Force. I also wanted to expand my career opportunities in the health care field by adding a military background to my portfolio,” he said. “I talked to an Army National Guard recruiter at the Army Reserve Office, but I turned down his offer to join the Air Force Reserve instead.”
Before he could do any of the training he desired, he first had to tackle the weight issues. He did so with a full-on assault.
“I purchased a gym membership and I decided to work out five days a week for two hours or more every day,” Concepcion said. “I also changed my diet drastically.”
Lacovara said Concepcion would call and text him every couple of months and give him progress reports.
About three weeks before his appointment with Lacovara, Concepcion called him and said he was down to 190 pounds, but wanted to be at 180 so there was no way he could be turned away at the military entrance processing station.
“We set up an appointment and when I saw him I was shocked,” Lacovara said. “His driver’s license picture was from his heavier days, so it was clear the transformation he’d made.”
From January to September, Concepcion stayed committed and determined to lose the weight needed to become a Reserve Citizen Airman. He had lost 116 pounds.
“He was amazed that I had lost so much weight,” Concepcion said. “We talked about how some people need to lose 15 pounds to join, but that I had actually lost 116 pounds and stayed committed through the entire process.”
After nine months of working out five days a week and adopting a very strict diet, Concepcion was ready to make the trip to MEPS and begin his path to becoming an Airman and chasing his dreams to work in the medical field. But Concepcion would have one last hurdle to leap before he could start his journey.
When he first went to MEPS on Oct. 4, he weighed in at 181 pounds, one pound over his limit.
“He was very positive,” Lacovara said. “He asked if he could come back the next day. I told him due to MEPCOM (Military Entrance Processing Command) regulations, he had to wait four days until he could return. He promised me that he would be 180 and ready to enlist. He kept that promise and then some.”
When he did return on Oct. 11, he was six pounds under the maximum allowable weight of 180. He had gotten himself down to 174 pounds. In nine months Concepcion had lost a staggering 123 pounds.
He enlisted with the 514th Air Mobility Wing, at the New Jersey base, as a medical technician.
While Lacovara was impressed with Concepcion for his commitment to lose weight, he found an even greater reason to respect the young man.
“Talking to him on the way home from MEPS is what really sold me on his dedication,” Lacovara said. “Yes, losing the weight alone is a feat that proves his desire to serve, but the conversation about wanting to help others and why he specifically wanted to be in the medical field was another level of humbling. He bettered himself for the sole purpose of helping others. He’s going to do great things.”
Concepcion shipped off to basic military training Dec. 5, excited and ready to get it done. Lacovara has great hopes for him and can see how he will benefit from the Air Force and how the Air Force will benefit from him.
“Not that he needs anymore motivation, but I think the Air Force Reserve is going to offer him the drive to continue doing great things,” he said. “The medical training, coupled with the physical training he’s going to receive, is going to enable him to spread his knowledge and message of hope to those around him.”
While Lacovara did gain Concepcion as an accession for AFRC Recruiting Service, he said he did learn a valuable and humbling lesson in the process.
“As excited and happy for Concepcion as I am, this story truly made me reflect on my own initial judgement,” Lacovara said. “I was ready to dismiss him. I can’t help but be disappointed in myself for not initially giving him the support I should have. I’m thankful for Senior Master Sgt. Bachman and his years of experience and his recognition of someone who just needed a chance. That’s what I take away from this entire process. We give people chances to be great, and Florentino Concepcion III is the living embodiment of that.”