SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Most of the people assigned to this forward-deployed location as part of Air and Space Expeditionary Force 3/4 have rotated home, but they have left behind a lot of excess baggage – unwanted pounds.

Airmen hit the gym in heavy numbers, sometimes filling the two facilities available, and many left in much better shape than when they arrived, according to a report by the Air Force.

“I’ve been on a variety of deployments before but never one where such a large number of people have come in with the goal of losing weight and have actually lost the weight,” said Staff Sgt. Reginald Johnson, 380th Expeditionary Services Squadron fitness center manager. “In our unit alone we had about 10 people each lose 10 to 15 pounds.”

During the deployment cycle, the fitness center began a successful exercise incentive activity called the “Walk, Climb and Run Program,” Johnson said. Participants tracked the number of cardio miles they accumulated and received a free T-shirt when they hit the 100-mile mark.

Besides exercise, the fitness staff also encouraged people to change their eating habits.

“People think they have to eat salad and diet foods and they don’t,” Sergeant Johnson said. “You can continue to eat the same thing, but eat it in moderation. You can’t have three or four pieces of cake, but you can have just one. People will see me grab a cookie out the bin, but it is one cookie, not six or seven.”

Johnson, who lost 33 pounds, said he didn’t come here with the goal of losing weight (see photo of Johnson – U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Ward).

“My goal was to come here safely, and go home safely,” he said. “But I found I had a lot of time on my hands and wanted to go home in better shape than when I got here.”

His typical workout routine included about 40 minutes of weight lifting, 15 minutes on the treadmill, 40 minutes on the elliptical machine and 40 minutes on the stationary bike. “I did it because I wanted people to see that I wasn’t just preaching it, I was doing it too,” he said.

Johnson said some people, including an Airman in his squadron who wanted to quickly lose 60 pounds, tried extreme diets to lose weight.

“I finally convinced her that the quick fix wasn’t a good idea because she would just gain the weight back,” he said. “I encouraged her to lose what she could here and continue it at home. She did and lost 37 pounds before she left.”

For most people taking off the weight was only half the battle. The other half comes as they return home and try to keep it off.

“That’s where discipline comes in,” Johnson said. “All we can do is encourage them to keep up with what they have accomplished.”

“It’s not going to be easy, especially after missing good Mexican food and Italian food,” said Staff Sgt. Kirk Roger Nemeth,” of the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Operations Squadron, who lost 11 pounds.

Now that Airmen with AEF 5/6 have arrived, there is a new opportunity for people to begin getting in shape. But, while the gym has been busy, it has been far from capacity, something Johnson said may change as the new Airmen settle in.

“Hopefully the fitness tents will be packed,” he said. “I like the fact that people can come here and leave in better shape than they came here.”