By Sgt. Mark MirandaFebruary 22, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Sweat trickles down Spc. Durrell Austin's face as he moves around the suspended heavy bag. Every 30 seconds he throws a different type of punch for a drill called a "30-30-30": first jabs, then rapid punches, then knockout punches over three minutes. Austin is one of several boxers who have taken over the second floor of McVeigh Sports and Fitness Center early on a Wednesday morning.
Every bag has a sweating Soldier working on technique, building on skills gained from months of training with Staff Sgt. Roberto Maldonado, the team's coach. They fight in two weeks.
Nine Soldiers, all of them from 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, will go to Fort Sill, Okla., to compete in the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade's Boxing Smoker, Feb. 28-March 1.
"We fall in with 17th Fires (Brigade) here, but our battalion is actually part of 31st ADA Bde., who started these boxing smokers on our last deployment to Iraq. The first fight I won lasted 13 seconds," said Maldonado, a battalion retention noncommissioned officer who has boxed since he was 16 years old.
"When we got an invitation to put a team together for this boxing smoker, we started draft-picking Soldiers based on a few things: people with prior boxing experience, and people who looked like they could do well," said Maldonado.
The boxers have given one another nicknames to build team cohesion.
Among the team's members is Staff Sgt. Jamar "J-May" Mabry, a former all-Army boxing team member and Golden Gloves member with 15 wins, eight by knockout. Sgt. Javier "Iron Man" Medina fought in 31st ADA's boxing smokers in Iraq, with three wins.
"We've been training since October -- conditioning, building endurance, flexibility and technique. At this point it's about developing power and speed. We train over two hours Monday to Friday and run on weekends," said Maldonado.
Soldiers working with Maldonado saw improvements to their fitness over the past four months of training. Seven-mile runs from their battalion headquarters to Solo Point helped heavier Soldiers such as Pfc. Christopher Murray lose more than 35 pounds.
"It has to be intense training because rounds last three minutes. That's a long time to punch, block, stay in the fight and endure. The more we sweat here, the less we bleed out there," said Maldonado.
The typical training glove weighs eight to 22 ounces. People not familiar with boxing may assume that an average 16 ounces is not a lot of weight, but after throwing hundreds or even thousands of punches during a single training session, the gloves start to feel heavy if a fighter is not conditioned for this type of workout.
The gloves add to overall strength and stamina to upper body conditioning, particularly in the shoulders (deltoids) and around the shoulder blades.
"I've been at this for four months, and was approached initially because (coach) Maldonado said I looked like I'd punch somebody back," said Austin, who will fight in the heavy weight class of 202 pounds and up.
Austin, a signal support systems specialist from Decatur, Ala., came to the team with no prior boxing experience.
"I like to train; the (physical training) is better and my run time has improved. The endurance is built up and since I've lost weight I feel like going three rounds is nothing," said Austin.
Maldonado has boxers in each of the weight classes, and expects to bring home a win in each one. The team also has a female member, but one who is unable to fight in the upcoming tournament.
Pfc. Arianna Cook, who injured her wrist while sparring, was one of the first Soldiers selected to train with the team.
"I cracked a bone in my wrist, but as much as possible I do want to continue boxing. I played hockey for 11 years, and I sweat more doing this -- I still want to compete and support my team even though I won't fight at Fort Sill," said Cook, an Avenger missile crewmember from Minneapolis, Minn.
"When all is said and done, we want recognition for all the hard work these guys have done. This is the best physical conditioning these Soldiers can get; we have a lot of 300 (Army Physical Fitness Test) scorers with us now. We are proud to be here, and want to prove to ourselves we can do it," said Maldonado.
The nine members now focus on all the facets affecting them as boxers: explosive power and strength, endurance, stamina and agility. The team is ready to put their training to task, and will know how they did in less than a week.