COB BASRA, Iraq - These days, you would be hard pressed to find a military base without some kind of weightlifting area, whether it is a full-sized gym or a bench surrounded by scrounged vehicle parts tethered to a makeshift lifting bar.

Here on Contingency Operating Base Basra, the very first bodybuilding contest was held with the help of a former professional bodybuilder and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities.

Competing were 29 participants, five females and 24 males, who squaredoff in multiple weight classes May 29, 2010.

"I'm teaching them what they can do with their bodies," said Sgt. Mark Kring of the 206th Military Police Company and resident of Albany, N.Y. Kring is a former bodybuilder and winner of the 2002 Mr. New York State bodybuilding competition.

Working with former sponsors, Kring scored more than $5,000 worth of prizes to hand out to the contestants, he said.

Kring said with some coaching and commitment, most participants made a good showing.
"They are learning how to do it naturally," Kring said. He has been training the servicemembers how to use only diet and exercise rather than drugs or diuretics.

Kring put his contestants on a strict diet and training regimen to get them in shape for the eventual competition. For four weeks, the servicemembers ate little more than boiled fish or chicken, rice and vegetables, he said. Coupled with the diet was a stringent exercise routine of weights and cardiovascular exercise.

While it is a rigorous workout, the competing Soldiers still have a job to do in Iraq. The Soldiers are required to not only complete their missions under the strict dietary conditions, but also to get to their posing practices and complete workout schedules in their free time, Kring said.

"I've been working out the whole deployment and wanted to show what I was made of," said Spc. Colin Erwin, a police transitional security member with the 203rd MP Battalion.

The native of Huntsville, Ala. saw a sign advertising the competition in the main Basra gym and decided to take on the challenge, he said. From there, he learned how important every muscle group is, as well as how to discipline his body and mind for such a competition.

Despite the discipline, it has been difficult for the servicemembers, especially during meal times.

"The hardest part was going to chow and watching everyone eat what I can't," said Spc. Kayla Shortt, a native of St. Louis and a production control clerk with Company B, 308th Brigade Support Battalion.

"I'm still planning to eat healthy and exercise," Erwin said, though he won't be as stringent about his future diet.