Cindy McLafferty, a nurses' assistant at Moncrief Army Community Hospital, has been trying to lose weight for 24 years. Nothing seemed to work until the right diet, rigorous exercise and her husband's deployment combined for a losing recipe.

The Army spouse had started to gain weight in 1984 after undergoing two brain surgeries.

"For some reason, all I've done is gain, gain, gain -- no matter what I've tried. I've tried every plan that you can think of," she said.

Following her husband, an Army nurse, from one assignment to the next, she tried to enlist the help of professionals.

"I've been to nutritionists at two different bases and did exactly what they told me, plus I did extra workouts," McLafferty explained. "After about four or five months at each duty station, the nutritionists saw that I was just as tight in my clothes. ... Their arms just went up and they said, 'I don't know what happened.'"

After a long series of futile attempts to shed the pounds, McLafferty had enough in the spring of 2007, when her weight peaked at close to 200 pounds. Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy McLafferty, was deploying to Iraq that April and Cindy hatched a plan.

"I had a vision of what I wanted to look like when he came back from Iraq," she explained.
Her goal was to get to her pre-surgery weight of 140 pounds, and things started to fall into place soon after her husband deployed.

A coach at a gym where she worked out approached her about a weight management plan she had not tried yet. McLafferty was skeptical but decided to give it a shot.
In addition, she started her own exercise plan involving "power walks" that made her a fixture at the local zoo.

"I kept going to the zoo. They have this wonderful hill that takes you to the gardens. I did laps and laps on that," she said. "I could hardly do one or two laps in the beginning. A few weeks later, I got to do five laps. Then I got to do 10 about two months later. Then I got to put ALICE (All-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) packs on me and carrying different weights in them to make it different.

"The longest (power walk) I've done so far was 27 laps. At the zoo, they just shake their heads at me," she said.

In keeping with her husband's Army background, McLafferty not only incorporated the ALICE pack into her workout, but used her own version of the Ogden Cord to keep track of her laps. The Ogden Cord is used by Soldiers in Basic Combat Training to keep track of their water intake. It consists of a cord attached to the uniform with beads for each quart of water consumed.

"I count my little beads that I have on my band," McLafferty explained. "I put heart beads on there for my husband. That's how I count how many laps I did."

Sticking to her strict workout and the new diet, by the time her husband returned from Iraq for Rest and Recuperation in September 2007, McLafferty had a surprise for him.

"When he came back from R&R, he had no clue what was going on," she said. "My friends knew, my family knew. I wouldn't dare tell him. Not one bit. I was just waiting for the expression on his face, because he knows I've been trying to lose weight for so many years."

During the first five months of her husband's deployment, McLafferty had dropped from a size 18 to a size 10.

Leroy, who is stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. and will retire from the Army Friday, remembered the moment he got off the airplane.

"I almost had to look for her. I was quite surprised," he said. "I was proud. She put her mind to something and achieved what she wanted. And she kept herself busy while I was deployed."
But the 5-foot-6-inch Army spouse was not done.

Her husband returned to Iraq for the rest of his tour of duty and she continued to inch closer to her goal -- this time with his knowledge.

"When he came back from Iraq in June, I was from a size 10 the last time he saw me, down to a size 4."

McLafferty is close to her target weight of 140 pounds now and encourages others to continue to try, even if it takes a long time.

"There's always a way that it can be done," she said, explaining that everyone has to find the solution that works for him or her.

A special treat for McLafferty is that an old moniker took on a new meaning,

"One of the nicknames (my husband's) always called me for over 30 years I've been with this man is 'Slender,' as a nickname for Cindy," she explained. "I waited for him to say it (when he returned from Iraq). It took two days to get it out of his mouth. When he finally said it, I said, 'You know what, you can call me Slender all you want, because I am now.'"