Getting Through Deployment with Physical Fitness

A paratrooper watches over his area of operation at Camp Taji, Iraq.
A U.S. Army paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division watches over his area of operation during a base defense exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2020. (Spc. Caroline Schofer/U.S. Army photo)

CAMP TAJI, Iraq -- While deployed, many soldiers set, and ultimately meet, goals. Some shoot for trivial goals, like high scores on video games, while others aim to start or complete civilian or military education, play instruments or meet financial goals.

Then there is a large majority who set physical fitness and body sculpting goals.

Despite completing three quarters of their deployment, soldiers of the 96th Transportation Company, also known as "Heavy Truck" for its heavy equipment transporters, felt it was not too late to set a new goal of losing weight.

The group of 12 soldiers used the popular NBC television show, "The Biggest Loser," as the inspiration and guideline for their competition. The popular television show is one of the regularly aired programs on the American Forces Network, which is viewed across deployment sites across the Middle East.

While friendly competition and ultimately being crowned the "Biggest Loser" was the goal of each participant, the competition gained the support of the unit's chain of command. The unit's support for the committed soldiers was headed by unit 1st Sgt. Charles Williams of Detroit.

The 12 soldiers in the competition were broken down into two teams: the Blue Team -- with trainer, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Wardale of Killeen, Texas -- and the Red Team, trained by Staff Sgt. Jamie Dudley of Newburgh, N.Y.

Each trainer was chosen based on their certifications, Army physical fitness test scores and personal commitment to physical fitness. Wardale is a certified master fitness trainer, and Dudley has a certificate from the commander's fitness trainer course. Both NCOs consistently maintain APFT scores over 290.

The contestants began their competition on July 1, 2009. They lost weight by following certain exercise and nutrition tips from their trainers. The diet plan and a regular regime of workout are followed by each person, but limitations such as missions and extended workdays can make the regime tough to follow. Fortunately, gyms on Camp Taji are open 24 hours, and most transient locations have fitness centers when contestants are away from Camp Taji.

The diet plans are according to the individual, but the dining facilities on Camp Taji and other bases have menus that facilitate healthy eating. The contestants are encouraged to eat lean protein, fresh vegetables and fruits.

Each team has different philosophies. The Red Team believes that group encouragement and motivation will push each member to work harder and beyond their limits physically, resulting in teamwork and cohesion, Dudley said. This mentality has earned them a total weight loss of 46 pounds in the first two weeks.

The Blue Team encourages members to work individually or as partners. Wardale maintains the mindset that each person needs to find that drive to be motivated and be committed to attain the weight loss they desire. So far, the Red Team has lost a total of 15 pounds.

Since the beginning of July, the teams were excited about the prospects of the competition, but some had to be voted off. In the first week, the Blue Team voted off one member because he wasn't following the diet and exercise plan while only losing one pound. The next week, the Blue Team lost yet another member when he gained five pounds.

The competition will continue throughout the entire deployment. Each week, more members will be voted off their teams. The end result in the contest has a twofold outcome. The winner will have achieved their goal and will be rewarded with a healthier body and possible lifestyle. While the soldiers will have learned more about themselves, the program maintains the Army's standards of weight control and physical fitness.

The 96th Transportation Company is based out of Fort Hood, Texas. They are currently deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq, and Victory Base Complex. The unit serves as a combat multiplier through its ability to transport heavy pieces of equipment over long distances.

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