FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 4, 2019) -- The 91st Military Police Battalion's Boxing Academy concluded April 4 with an exhibition of sorts as the boxers were cheered by dozens of their peers during their final evaluations.

The 10-session training clinic was led by Lt. Col. Scott Blanchard, 91st MP Battalion commander, and assisted by Capt. Erin Kocher, battalion S2. Blanchard was previously a boxing and combatives instructor in the Department of Physical Education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Kocher, a West Point Class of 2014 graduate, was a member of the academy's Women's Boxing Team.

Blanchard said that the course was designed for beginners and that his intent was to strengthen the Soldiers' warrior ethos.

"The first time in life you get punched in the face shouldn't be when you learn to defend yourself," Blanchard said. "We teach that when you get punched in the face, you get back up and keep going. You fight through your challenges, and that's an important skill to learn."

At each session, Soldiers paired up with one another to practice boxing fundamentals through sparring. They learned basic punches - the jab, hook, cross and uppercut - defensive movements and boxing strategies.

"This was not about hitting the heavy bags, because bags don't hit back," Blanchard said. "They learned by hitting each other because that's the only way to get the right level of experience. You swim, you're going to get wet - you box, you're going to get punched in the face, and so it's just something you have to get through."

But before the Soldiers traded punches Blanchard made sure they knew how to throw them, and he emphasized safety throughout.

"This was definitely not a free-for-all," he said. "It's very structured training, because you want to minimize the risk of concussion. That's also why we have a medic in the room at all times. A jab can stun you a little bit, but a cross can knock you out."

Sgt. 1st Class Eamonn McDonough, operations noncommissioned officer in charge, never had boxed before but he had combatives training before joining the boxing academy.

"I love working out, so that's my main reason for doing this," he said. "But the things we learned from Lt. Col. Blanchard and Capt. Kocher, who are so well-versed in boxing, was a great opportunity."

McDonough said that two or three 30-second sparring sessions can be surprisingly fatiguing.

"It's definitely a cardio workout, with all the movement and throwing punches," he said. "You don't realize how tired you can get very quickly, or how much you use those smaller muscles to throw punches."

In addition to just being a great workout, McDonough said that the boxing academy teaches resiliency.

"A lot of people have never been in a fight in their lives," he said. "You don't know how you're going to react until that happens. There's a readiness or resiliency you get from knowing, 'hey, I got punched in the face but I can react to it, get better from it and it won't happen again.'"

Blanchard began offering Soldiers boxing lessons last year, and he said that the biggest challenge was arranging the time for them to take advantage of the class.

"It's pretty tough being a military police with their schedules to be afforded the opportunity for something like this," he said.

That's why 1st Lt. Evonnie Fomento signed up for the boxing academy.

"This was a chance to do a different form of PT, and it's an opportunity we don't always get to have," she said. "This isn't the usual Army PT, so this allows us to explore a different avenue of training."

Fomento said that she was easily the smallest boxer in the class and she might have been a bit hesitant to taking a punch.

"I think I anticipated it a little too much sometimes," she said. "It made me a little more careful when sparring, but, honestly, you just have to take it and go with it. It's a classroom situation and a controlled environment, not a street fight, so you learn to get over any fear."

Blanchard said that he was impressed with the Soldiers' ability to rise to the challenge.

"There were some who are natural athletes, and they came in and really took to the class, but every one of them got better," he said. "At the end of the day, they can get in a ring and hold their own."