High Seas - Sailors aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) used deployment as an opportunity for fitness by participating in a six-week long health challenge hosted by the ship's medical staff throughout June and July.

Participants could compete as individuals or in teams up to three people, and collectively 46 Sailors lost 314 pounds, 65.5 inches from the waist and saw a total of 120 points decrease in body composition assessment (BCA) percentages.

"It was really to kind of break up the monotony of deployment... to kind of re-invigorate the culture of fitness on board," said Chief Information Systems Technician Curtis Buzard, Mesa Verde's command fitness leader. "Using the long deployment is a good opportunity for people to kind of zero in on not just getting their quals done, but they have a little bit more time to get in shape, more than they would back on shore where you're dealing with regular family life, and other things off board the ship."

Buzard said the challenge was useful because it provided a focus for those who wanted to make a change in their lives but didn't know where to start.

"You build the foundation out here where it's a little bit easier and you can maybe get over those initial hurdles," Buzard said. "It's a slow process for some people to get it started, but once you get that momentum going, it's a little easier to keep it, especially when you start seeing results."

As part of the challenge, Sailors weighed in weekly and were measured around the neck, waist and hips to mark their progress.

In addition to daily food and exercise logs, the contest also included weekly challenges, aimed at informing and educating on different topics related to overall health, such as basal metabolic rate, body mass index and how to read a nutrition label.

"Essentially I just wanted to bring awareness to the crew about weight loss, but also healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle," said Lt. John Morrison, the ship's medical officer. "The focus being if that people had a better understanding about what it took to help maintain a healthy weight that maybe they'd be a little more engaged in their own wellbeing."

The winners in the male, female and team categories were awarded gift cards to the ship's store, as well as various privileges on the ship such as head-of-the-line priority for chow and laundry services.

The winner in the male category, Chief Culinary Specialist Jesse Wallace, lost 30 pounds during the challenge, in addition with the 15 he'd lost since the deployment began in February. Wallace said he'd already set a goal for personal fitness during deployment, but that the challenge helped him stay on track.

"It was more motivation for me to keep on working out without giving up," Wallace said. "And I hate quitters, so I didn't want to be one."

Other participants said they could notice a change in themselves after the challenge.

"Now I'm in the habit of working out, I enjoy working out and that's a good habit to have," said Quartermaster 2nd Class Lavette Williams, who lost 17 pounds during the challenge. "I feel a whole lot better, a lot healthier, I move a lot faster, I have a lot more energy."

Wallace and Williams agreed that the changes have been hard at times, but rewarding, and they are both excited to get home to show their results to friends and family.

Wallace said he plans to continue his progress and his advice to others is to stay motivated.

"Find something that will motivate you, like I have my wife to motivate me, I had the challenge to motivate me, switch it up, find more and more things to motivate you to keep you going," Wallace said. "I still go to the gym now, and when I get on the machine, sometimes I watch the calories, sometimes I watch the time, but you push yourself more and more each time... you just have to find something to keep you going."

Mesa Verde is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.