Alex Rodgers wanted to join the U.S. Army so much that he lost 100 pounds to get in.
“Even when I was a kid, I wanted to be in the military,” said Alex, a 2011 Belleville West grad. “Both parents were military. That’s how they met.”
It has been an event-filled year for 23-year-old. He graduated from combat engineering (Sapper) training at Fort Leonard Wood in April and learned then his mom has breast cancer. He married Megan Powers Oct. 10 at the Conservatory, a private botanical garden and wedding chapel in St. Charles, Mo., and had surgery Oct. 14 to remove excess skin.
He is currently stationed at Fort Carson, Colo.
“Alex and Megan are loving Colorado and doing great,” said Barb Rodgers, Alex’s mother. “The whole family is so proud of Alex for going for it and fulfilling his dreams.”
Alex, whose dad is Gregory Rodgers, has an older brother, Joshua Gillham, and older sister, Annie Gillham. Barb, a medic in the Army and a Desert Storm veteran, now works for Coventry Health Care; Gregory is an electronic engineer at Siemens Manufacturing in New Athens.
Alex, who likes reading, history and Netflix documentaries, joined ROTC in August 2012 when he was a college sophomore at SIU Carbondale.
“My roommate told me about it,” he said. “I talked to the lieutenant colonel (Eric Roberts) who ran it,”
At the time, 5-foot-6 Alex weighed 289. He wore size 2XL shirts and had a 42-inch waist.
“The (lieutenant colonel) said, ‘We don’t usually let people your size in,’ but he saw my determination and thought I would achieve my goals. He was very supportive. ... For the first year, he was there, he always gave me tips and encouraged me. We are friends on Facebook now. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have gotten where I am now.”
Alex signed a contract to lose weight. That’s when the real fun started. Up at 6 a.m. Push-ups, sit-ups, and running — a lot of running.
“By far, I was one of the bigger people. It’s difficult when you weigh close to 300. Even then, naysayers said, ‘He’s going to wash out.’”
They didn’t know how determined Alex was.
“It was something I wanted to do, so I did it,” he said. “A lot of that is mental. Usually, your own worst enemy is yourself. They gave me guidelines. It was kind of what they always tell you: portion control, vegetables, lean meat. In the end, it boils down to how many calories you take in and how many you burn.”
Halfway through his weight-loss adventure, he met Megan, an SIUC photography major who grew up in Mount Zion.
“I was 240 or so. I told her, ‘There used to be much more of me.’”
Alex visited a recruiter in July 2014 to see how close he was to getting in. He didn’t pass the body fat index the first time, but two weeks later, he did.
“I had never seen such a big smile on his face,” said Barb, “as the day he came home from the recruiting office in Fairview Heights to say, ‘Mom, I did it.’ This is what he always wanted to do.”
Alex now weighs about 180 and doesn’t worry about getting on the scale.
“It’s easy. It’s part of the job. We are always active. We run miles every week, five to seven miles at a time.”
His two-mile time is 15 minutes, 50 seconds.
“The first time, when I ran in the 280s, it took me 32 minutes to do it,” Alex said. “I was the last one by far to finish.”
The Army makes sure he meets standards.
“They do a tape test to measure body fat. I am where I need to be.”
Alex had surgery in October to remove excess skin from his abdomen.
“The (Army) did suggest it and paid for it,” he said. “Recovery was only two weeks. The surgery wasn’t scheduled till February, but space opened up in October.”
He and Megan enjoy living near Colorado Springs.
“There is lots of stuff to do,” he said. “The mountains are great. We hike and do all that good stuff. We go to Garden of the Gods and take pictures. We drive through the mountains.”
The job is not so bad either. Army Private Alex is learning to be a combat engineer. He does such things as bridge-building, airfield construction and repair, and laying or clearing minefields.
“Blowing stuff up is always fun,” he said.
The lifestyle agrees with him.
“I like it. It’s not for everybody. I enjoy the order and structure. ... Mom likes to say I was born to wear the uniform.”