By Cpl. Daniel Eddy, 196th MPAD, 1st Armd. Div., USD-CSeptember 23, 2010
BAGHDAD-The bell rings. Focus, think of the training, stay calm, fight through the weariness and know victory is the only option.
These are only a few things that run through a boxer's head while in the ring with their opponent.
One match requires a boxer to put in weeks of practice in order to be prepared for the fight. During this preparation period, a boxer will have to dedicate hours of each week and will have to keep with the program to be ready for a fight.
"Boxing is the most aggressive, yet skillful sport, (in which) you can exert several talents as an athlete, and the fact that you are an individual champion-that's what drives me," said Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Walker, one of the trainers for the Boxing Smoker 2, Oct. 9 and a motor sergeant with Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armored Division United States Division - Center, and a Brooklyn, N.Y., native.
Another instructor, Staff Sgt. Jermaine Ellis - a logistical sergeant with DSTB, 1st Armd. Div., and a Youngstown, Ohio, native - teaches boxing to Soldiers every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the division's Iron Gym.
Capt. James Battle, liaison officer with the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, and a Newport News, Va., native, who fought in the first smoker and has been training with Ellis for several months, said the training is very demanding.
"(Ellis) has a big passion for the sport," Battle said. "He has been doing it for his entire life and if you are willing to learn, he is willing to teach you, but he trains you hard and he pushes your limit. His dedication is unmatched and I have never seen anyone more passionate about the sport."
The instructors also have a great amount of respect for each other.
"Sergeant Ellis is an artist to the fight game," Walker said. "He is a student of fighting. He studies the art of boxing and he is a technician who is incredible. He is a pretty bad dude."
With 40 years of boxing experience combined between Ellis and Walker, the Soldiers training for the event have a wealth of experience from which to learn.
Walker started boxing at the age of 12 and won his first Golden Gloves competition at the age of 15.
Ellis, also a Golden Gloves winner and former member of the All-Army boxing team, said his passion comes from his experience when he first started training with his grandfather at the age of 6.
Now, neither Ellis nor Walker compete but instead have become trainers. During their training sessions they said they start from the ground up. Soldiers learn how to box properly, and are conditioned with strength, stamina and core training.
Walker said it is extremely important for a boxer to be properly trained and conditioned, because the chances of being hurt are significantly lowered if a boxer is prepared.
Battle compares Ellis' training methods to those of a drill sergeant.
"(Ellis) has to break you down mentally," he said. "First he gets your mind into it, then it's physical fitness. It's very similar to the military, because you have to learn to think under pressure and while you are getting beat on, you have to constantly think, 'Okay, this strategy is not working, let me think of a another strategy.' (Boxers) are constantly thinking while (they're) fighting."
Battle said while being rattled around and beat on in the ring, he has to block out all the distractions of the lights and crowd, and stay focused on the fight and what instructions are being told to him by his ringside trainer.
"(Ellis) is your drill sergeant," Battle said. "Your drill sergeant has been with you your whole training period, so through all the yelling and screaming, you are fighting the other guy, you hear (Ellis') voice. It's a sign of comfort, its like, 'Ok, I recognize his voice through all the other mess, and what he is saying."
Ellis said the Soldiers he is training have dramatically improved since first starting and as a trainer loves seeing this develop.
"No matter what the person's age, its like seeing your own child grow," Ellis said. "It makes you feel good about the time you committed to it, the attention you have committed to it and the dedication you committed to it. It's hard to express that feeling that you get, without getting too cocky."
Both Ellis and Walker will train the Soldiers, but they fill different roles as trainers. Ellis will usually train the more experienced fighters while Walker tests the Soldiers to see how determined they are.
"I am the heart coach," Walker said. "From the sparring, that's where I get to find out if you are soft, scared or if you are just not tough enough. So we've got to pull it out of you, and I am the guy that makes you cry. I make you not want to come back to the gym cause I pump the fear out of the fighters and get them ready to fight; I get them mentally tough, I'm the last step, that's my job."
During the hours of practice Ellis, will walk among the Soldiers' exercising and occasionally shout out, "Rule one!" in which the Soldiers, whatever they are doing, will shout out, "Work hard!" When the pain starts to get to the Soldiers and fatigue sets in, Ellis will shout, "Rule two!" and the Soldiers respond with, "Don't quit!"
Pfc. Josiah Portukalian, a combat medic with Company B, DSTB, 1st Armd. Div., and an Orleans, Ind., native, said boxing has brought him closer to a lot of Soldiers in his unit whom he would have never talked to otherwise.
Even though boxing is an individual sport, a team to rally around is important. One way Ellis and Walker have helped the Soldiers work as a team is by having the more experienced fighters help train and teach the newer fighters.
"When you do amateur-to-amateur teaching, in boxing, you get a pretty tight group," Walker said. "They look up to each other for guidance. Some fighters are just scared because some people have never been punched before, and that is a big fear. But when you got your battle buddy on your left and right, saying, 'Hey man I was the same way, just grab my hip, and we will pull you through ...'"
For Ellis, being there for the Soldiers means more than just training them physically and mentally.
"I really enjoying seeing people improve and increase in areas where they have set goals for themselves, and I am able to do that with these guys and the boxing program," Ellis said. "You might have (a Soldier) come (out to box) who might be suicidal or who has marital problems, and you are able to counsel, mentor and guide these guys without even realizing you are doing it. You lift their spirits up, it turns around and they start to have a level of trust for you-and they will start to talk to you. It evolves from just being a boxing (program) to a mentoring program. So that is the main reason why I love doing it."