ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois - Employees from Headquarters, U.S. Army Sustainment Command and other organizations based on Rock Island Arsenal gathered at the Lock and Dam Lounge here May 14 to celebrate the completion of the "Fit Food Challenge."

The eight-week initiative, which began March 5, presented participants with a weekly series of challenges designed to teach them about food and nutrition, and encourage them to make changes in their diet that would lead to a healthier lifestyle.

The Fit Food Challenge was sponsored by ASC's G1 (Human Resources) Wellness Division as part of an effort to enhance the command's mission readiness by improving the overall health and resiliency of its workforce.

Along with the weekly challenges, the Fit Food Challenge featured a "Smoothie Day," at which tasty, high-nutrition smoothies were served; lunchtime walks held twice a week; and seminars on the subjects of plant-based diets and holistic health.

The Fit Food Challenge was completed by 218 employees from 22 staff sections and offices at ASC Headquarters, along with six other RIA-based organizations: Army Contracting Command-Rock Island, the U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command, the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, First U.S. Army, and the RIA Health Clinic (Fort Knox Medical Department).

The 218 participants also included 24 employees from three of ASC's Army Field Support Brigades - the 403rd in Korea; the 404th at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; and the 406th at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

At the May 14 awards ceremony, Fit Food Challenge participants received certificates of completion and insulated lunch bags marked with the ASC Wellness Division logo.

A special "Bragging Rights" award was presented to ASC G8 (Resource Management), which had 38 employees complete the Fit Food Challenge, the highest number of any ASC organization.

The certificates were presented by Matt Sannito, ASC's executive director for Support Operations. In brief remarks at the ceremony, Sannito jokingly confessed that he had eaten several frosting-covered brownies over the weekend, perhaps not meeting the intent of the initiative.

"As we all know, it's hard changing our lives and our approach to food and nutrition, but we've got to keep at it," Sannito said, "We need to place emphasis on the well-being of our workforce, so we can become more productive and happier in our personal and professional lives."

Lee Hansen, G1 deputy chief of staff, said that he continued to refer back to the tools and techniques introduced during the Fit Food Challenge, including a phone application that tracks daily food consumption by calorie count and nutritional value.

"The little steps you take can make a big difference," Hansen said, adding that the Fit Food Challenge was more than just an individual initiative.

"This program encouraged us all to rise to the challenge," he said, "and to work together to become healthier and (get) better."

Jim Spencer, chief of the Wellness Division, said that the Fit Food Challenge was intended to help ASC achieve its goal of building a more ready and resilient workforce.

"We want to change the culture of the command," Spencer said. "Programs like this can enhance our resiliency, which will increase our readiness and our ability to carry out our mission. That's what this is really all about."

Lori Owens, a master resiliency trainer in the Wellness Division who coordinated the Fit Food Challenge, noted that the impact of the challenge went beyond the 218 participants.

"We encouraged employees taking the challenge to get their families involved, since we eat most of our meals at home," Owens said.

As a result, one participant reported that her young daughter, who normally resisted eating anything green, willingly ate her vegetables in order to get stickers on a chart provided through the challenge. Another participant had a son whose first-grade class did a modified version of the challenge after he told his teacher about it.

For one participant, the lessons learned through the Fit Food Challenge helped get her adult daughter through a stressful time, and set them both on a course that led to healthier eating and weight loss.

Fit Food Challenge participant Anthony Mayuri-Robles agreed that the initiative benefited his entire family, noting that they eagerly awaited the weekly tips and challenges.

"This challenge created a network of friends who shared a common goal of living a healthier lifestyle," Mayuri-Robles said. "Thanks to the Wellness Division for bringing us these life-changing programs, and thanks to ASC for supporting these programs and showing that they are just as invested in the workforce as they are in the mission."

Sgt. Matthew McKenna said that he lost five pounds over the course of the Fit Food Challenge, adding that it proved easier than he expected it to be.

"(The challenge) was set up in such a way that I could slowly adjust to a healthier diet," McKenna said. "I especially like how it allowed me to eat things like pizza and doughnuts and still be healthy thanks to portion control."

Bob Fite said participating in the Fit Food Challenge helped him understand that enhancing his fitness through healthier eating required a change in lifestyle.

"We learned that healthy eating isn't hard, but does require that we rearrange our time and be mindful of the actions we take," Fite said. "And Smoothie Day was a blast!

"Everyone who participated in the program benefited from it," he added. "Hopefully, I can do it again soon."

Owens said that, while the Fit Food Challenge may be done for now, the feedback she's received indicates that the healthy lifestyles it helped create and enhance will continue.

"The challenge provided a place to start and an opportunity to grow," she said. "While not everyone completed all of the challenges, they did add healthy habits to their lifestyle. That was the goal - to help people build healthy, sustainable habits into their everyday lives."

Even if you didn't participate in the Fit Food Challenge, you can still learn more about healthy eating and nutrition by visiting a Sharepoint site established in conjunction with the challenge. The site, which is open to anyone with a common access card, includes all materials related to the challenge along with additional information and resources. The Web address is:

Up next from the Wellness Division will be the "Water Reset Challenge," which will challenge participants to increase their consumption of water just in time for the warm summer months, when proper hydration can prevent heat injuries. ASC employees should look for more information on the water challenge in the next few weeks.