BAMBERG, Germany - To show their support of loved ones deployed downrange, members of the U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg community are "walking" to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Called Operation Walk 4 Freedom, the community-wide health initiative kicked off this month when more than 50 spouses, many with children in tow, gathered at the Bamberg Freedom Fitness Facility track here to begin their trek.

"The objective of the program is to accumulate enough miles in one year to equal the distance to Afghanistan, Iraq, or wherever loved ones or friends may be deployed, through walking, running or other activities," said Angela Hunter, the Bamberg Health Promotion coordinator.

From Bamberg, that's approximately 3,245 miles one way to Afghanistan and 2,000 to Iraq.

When asked how far she would walk to see her husband downrange, Lauren Kemp, 173rd Special Troops Battalion spouse replied: "Forever, ... screaming kids and all, even to see him for only one minute."

Speaking from experience, Kemp said this is their fourth deployment, and a program like this encourages her to keep going, physically and mentally.

Indeed, the participants overwhelmingly agree that the program is an incentive for getting active - and staying active - during a stressful year.

"There are so many excuses you can use for not working out, and this program gets you up, out and going," said Valerie Wells, whose husband is with the 173rd.

"It's definitely a stress reliever for me" added Susy Roe, a 4th Bn., 319th Field Artillery Regiment spouse, who plans to log most of her miles with her Family Readiness Group by walking, biking and rollerblading.

Hunter said the health benefits of such activities were seen in results from a similar 2004 program.

"Past participants showed increased energy levels, mental awareness, and an increased ability to cope and manage stress," she said.

The distance can seem daunting at first, she explained to the group for their orientation, but with the use of a pedometer, walkers can accumulate miles all day while going about their regular routine of walking the dog, chasing after kids or running errands. Quarterly Walk 4 Freedom community sponsored events will be offered to give participants an opportunity to earn double miles.

All participants who register for the program during the Operation Walk 4 Freedom assessments will receive a free pedometer, log book, and assistance with goal setting, fitness, and exercise plans.
The assessment includes a weight, blood pressure, and heart rate check, a body fat assessment, and a flexibility and cardiovascular step test. Registering also includes a six month mid-term assessment and post assessment in June 2008. Anyone can participate and log miles beginning June 1 as an individual, family, FRG, or other type of team.

(Amy Bugala is a member of the USAG Bamberg Public Affairs Office)