AUSTIN (KXAN) — A high-ranking officer with the Texas State Guard was given the boot, because she was deemed too heavy, emails show — even though other members in the same physical shape or heavier were allowed to stay, a KXAN investigation found.
“I don’t understand why they’re kicking out people that gained weight?” said Lt. Col. Cendy Brister-Antley. “Are we suddenly less intelligent, because we gained weight?”
After nearly 13 years in the Texas State Guard, Brister-Antley was booted from her volunteer desk job, emails show, because of her weight. A nurse and administration officer, she joined because she felt it was a calling and duty to serve our state.
“I was only the second female to be a regimental plans and operations officer,” she said.
From providing emergency and disaster relief to patrolling the border, the Texas State Guard is a non-combat volunteer force, without law enforcement authority, whose motto is: “Texans Serving Texans.”
Now, Brister-Antley, a Georgetown resident, feels the State Guard isn’t serving her and other overweight service members. She reached out to KXAN saying she was “fat shamed” and forced out. She’s pushing for a policy change, accusing the State Guard of selectively following its own rules.
KXAN met Brister-Antley outside of Camp Mabry in Austin, which is home to the Texas Military Department and the Texas State Guard, where she used to work.
“We didn’t get paid for it,” she said, noting for a time she drove five hours one way to Midland just to volunteer her time.
“So, my question is: Why are they kicking out volunteers?” she asked.
Weight rules ‘inconsistently’ enforced
Despite receiving honors and praise for her intellect, she was let go 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 her BMI, which is used to determine obesity, as 40. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies anything above 30 as obese. A BMI of 40 or greater is considered “severe,” according to the CDC and triggers an automatic honorable discharge, according to State Guard policy.
“If they marked your BMI down as 40, you signed up for the [Texas State] Guard, you knew what you were getting into and what the rules were,” said KXAN investigator Matt Grant. “Why shouldn’t you have been discharged?”
“Because,” replied Brister-Antley, “it was not 40 BMI.”
Brister-Antley points to the CDC’s online calculator widget, which shows her BMI was actually 39.98. The State Guard “rounded up” to 40, she said. If her BMI was marked below 40, she would have been allowed to stay and receive weight loss counseling, according to policy.
“I was not given an opportunity, per their own policy, to get on their medical weight loss program,” she said, still frustrated more than a year later. “I was told, ‘Your [BMI is] 40, you’re out.'”
Brister-Antley was honorably discharged in February last year, records show.
“It is with no great pleasure that I must enforce the physical fitness standards that we have adopted moving towards the State Guard of tomorrow,” wrote Brig. Gen. Joe Cave in an email. “You are encouraged to evaluate your personal health situation, and it is hoped that I can soon welcome you back into the State guard family. Your intellect and advice will be sorely missed, but I hope for only a short period.”
The Inspector General of the Texas Military Department investigated and agreed with the dismissal but found at least one other State Guard member “not in compliance” with weight rules at the same time yet “allowed to remain active” anyway.
Some senior officials had concerns about the policy, which was developed in 2018, according to internal emails obtained by KXAN. In one, a deputy commanding general wrote “inaccurate scales” were reportedly being used and complained about “inconsistencies” in how and when the weight policy is enforced.
The fact the policy is not “generally” being enforced, he said, led to some officials voicing concerns about “the perception of targeting” of some members.
“Make sure the rules are applied across the board to everyone and be transparent about it,” a command sergeant major wrote a month after Brister-Antley was discharged.
Since January of last year, 13 State Guard members statewide were discharged due to weight, officials said. However, a list of BMI for members from February 2020, which Brister-Antley obtained and gave to KXAN, show at least 15 members with a BMI of 40 or above, suggesting more should have been discharged under the policy.
“I do feel it’s discrimination,” said Brister-Antley.
KXAN asked the State Guard how many members are receiving weight loss counseling. Officials would only say the number “fluctuates” every month. Since it started tracking the data a year ago, the highest month was last November with 214. The lowest was this past September with 113, officials said. KXAN asked for additional month-by-month 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 were not in weight compliance would have been allowed to stay or why Brister-Antley’s weight was “rounded up.” Instead, the department defended her ousting, saying it was “in accordance” with policies that ensure the Texas Military Department is “always ready.”
“All service members are held responsible for maintaining compliance with his/her component requirements, policies and regulations, in order to ensure that the Texas Military Department is always ready and always there to support the citizens of Texas when called upon,” officials with the Texas Military Department said in a written statement.
The State Guard’s top leadership have defended the policy writing that this “wellness program” is necessary to “take care of our most important resource, our people.”
“The health and fitness of the individuals compromising the Texas State Guard directly impacts our ability to effectively respond to state and local emergency situations,” an email sent to all members in 2018 read. “A common, visible indicator of health and wellness is a person’s weight as compared to height.”
Members who don’t meet weight standards are given two years to “work toward compliance,” the email said.
The policy was changed last June to eliminate that two-year timeframe to lose weight. It now says members with a BMI under 40 “may continue service in TXSG if they continue to make satisfactory progress in losing weight.”
KXAN checked and found the Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for statewide law enforcement and vehicle regulation, does not have any such weight requirements.
“DPS does not have a requirement for weight for commissioned personnel,” said DPS spokesperson Ericka Miller. DPS does, however, have weight restrictions for commissioned officers. Men must have a waist measurement “below 40 inches,” and women “below 35 inches,” according to DPS policy.
The Army National Guard and Air National Guard, which are military reserve forces, require members meet physical fitness standards as set by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force “based on an individual’s respective age category,” military officials said.
“BMI is not necessarily a requirement or issue unless it affects their readiness,” said Army spokesperson Maj. Matthew Murphy. “For instance, we have some members who are competitive body builders. They would not meet BMI standards, yet they are fit.”
Texas State Guard officials would not say if Brister-Antley would be welcomed back, which is something she hopes will happen. She says her weight has no impact on her ability to do her job.
Right now, the only thing heavy, she says, is her heart.
“This is my opportunity to serve,” said Brister-Antley. “Everybody gives back in their own way and this is mine.”