BAGHDAD - More than 100 Forward Operating Base Union III residents are participating in the United States Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training and FOB Union III 10-week long weight loss challenge that began here March 13.

Nearly a month into the challenge, designed to motivate participants to make healthy lifestyles adjustments, the competitive spirit is in full swing. Each week participants gather at the fitness center here to measure their progress.

While weight loss is the primary means to measure progress, the challenge affords participants the opportunity to learn how to develop healthier eating habits and create a personal fitness routine they can follow regularly.

The conclusion of week one was marked by a ceremony honoring the top individuals and teams.

The second week of the challenge coincided with the DCG (A&T)-FOB Union III monthly fun run, themed the "March Madness 5K Fun Run," in which the three-fastest runners, male and female, had to successfully make a basketball free-throw in order to stop their run time.

Weight loss challenge participants who ran in the fun run received special recognition.

During the first three weeks of competition, some jostling occurred among leaders, with many of the same individuals, buddies and teams occupying the top-three positions.

By week four things got interesting as some new names started to climb the leader board.

Since the challenge began, the participants have lost a grand total of 496 pounds. Thus far, the greatest amount of weight loss in each category belongs to: Individual's category - Ralph Dempsey, assistant operations officer for the United States Forces-Iraq's Strategic Logistics, with a total weight loss of 13.5; Buddy Teams category - "Old Farts," composed of Robert Betker with USF-I StratLog and Ed Whitted of Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission-Air, with a combined weight loss of 19.5 pounds; and in the Team category "Mayor Cell.U.Lite.Est" composed of 15 members of the International Zone Support Element staff claims a solid lead over competitors with combined weight loss of 98.5 pounds.

Members of "Mayor Cell.U.Lite.Est" are: U.S. Army Lt. Col. Detrick Briscoe; U.S. Army Maj. Eric Goldie; U.S. Army Maj. Justin Redfern; U.S. Army Master Sgt. Natalie Jackson; U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rholondra Louis; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Allen; U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Sean Kholmeyer; U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Amanda Harness; U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Kerry Tucker; U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jacquelyn Thomas; Katrina Philips; Lena Seymore; Neil Arif; Richard McCart; and Roman Will.

For participants, the challenge moved to the next level with the five-man humvee push-pull competition here April 15.

With the challenge at the half-way point the competition continues to test participants. Weekly weigh-in results clearly indicate that is a lot of room for success. Regardless of the outcome, all will be winners in the long-run for having developed healthier eating habits and changes in lifestyle to last a lifetime.

Editor's note: This story is the second part of a six-part series.