LAS VEGAS, Aug. 16, 2019 —
Luis Enrique Pinto Jr. joined the Army so he could do something different. But first, he had to do something extraordinary.
Just seven months ago, the 6-foot-1-inch teenager was overweight at 317 pounds and unable to pass the Army's weight requirements.
The former high school football offensive lineman admitted his diet was full of carbohydrates, but he vowed to slim down so he could sign up.
Luis, 18, recalled being part of something bigger than himself while playing on his football team, and he craved for that again with the Army.
"I transferred that same mentality over to life after high school," he said Wednesday.
Initially, his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Philip Long, was skeptical, but still supported his goal.
Long, who has served as a recruiter for almost four years, said he often sees potential recruits struggle to pass requirements even when they only have a few pounds to lose.
"They never put the effort into it," he said. "They never actually care enough and they don't go anywhere. And then you turn around and you got someone like Luis."
Luis was born in Oakland, but later grew up in Peru and Las Vegas. He currently works as an electrician at construction sites, but recently decided he wanted to be the first in his family to serve in the U.S. military.
"You've got one life. I don't want to wake up and do the same thing every single day," he said. "There's a whole world out there."
Before he could sign the enlistment papers, he cracked down on his diet and stepped up his fitness to cut his weight.
Cardio was his toughest hurdle, he said. He began to do high-intensity interval training where he switched between jogs and sprints to improve his run time.
"Running wasn't my strong suit," he said. "Carrying all that extra weight and trying to run definitely increased my time."
As the months dragged on, he extended his interval training. He now runs 1 mile in just six minutes and 30 seconds -- about half the time he ran it when he first started.
His mother also motivated him to hit the gym, especially on those days when he felt like taking an off day.
"One thing she told me is to just show up," he said. "Just show up and don't worry about the workout that's to come. You show up at the gym and once you're there, you're already there so might as well just get it over with."
The near-daily workouts began to pay off and he shed pound after pound -- 113 of them to be exact.
Now at 204 pounds, Luis has also seen a positive change in his attitude.
"When I was big, I was really insecure," he said. "Now I'm walking with my head up high."
His recruiter said Luis' dedication to lose over 100 pounds should be an inspiration to others.
"That's a human. He lost the equivalent of a human in seven months," Long said.
With help from his recruiter, Luis was able to enlist as a 14E -- responsible for operating and maintaining Patriot weapon systems, one of the world's most advanced missile systems.
The new job also came with a $16,000 bonus.
Luis plans to report to basic training in early September. He started future Soldier training this week to learn what to expect in the weeks ahead as well as in his Army career.
He also blew past the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, which the Army now administers to new recruits to ensure they can physically perform a certain job.
"Every event was like it was made for him; it was easy," Long said.
Whatever the challenge Luis may face in the Army, his recruiter has no doubt he can overcome it.
"To have that heart and that drive to keep pushing forward, it's impressive. It got him to where he can enlist in the Army," Long said. "That mentality is going to carry him through his career and through life and he'll be extremely successful."
Luis said he looks forward to the extra physical training within the Army lifestyle, as he now aims to drop down to 190 pounds.
"Hitting my goal weight definitely isn't my end goal," he said. "There's still way more to come. I still want to get better."
But for now, the wardrobe the Army plans to issue him should at least accommodate his current figure.
"I pretty much use my old shirts for blankets at this point," he said, laughing.