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A left from Antone Dillard glances off the head of Brian Richards during Friday night fights at Camp Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq.
A left from Antone Dillard glances off the head of Brian Richards during Friday night fights at Camp Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
A left from Antone Dillard glances off the head of Brian Richards during Friday night fights at Camp Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq.
A left from Antone Dillard glances off the head of Brian Richards during Friday night fights at Camp Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Soldiers and civilians from Camp Speicher watch the first of three matches at the Company, A 404th Aviation Support Battalion, boxing ring. Soldiers from the unit built the ring out of material scavenged from a scrap yard.
Soldiers and civilians from Camp Speicher watch the first of three matches at the Company, A 404th Aviation Support Battalion, boxing ring. Soldiers from the unit built the ring out of material scavenged from a scrap yard. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Trainer Spc. Jason Schmidt talks to fighter Spc. Destin Perdue between rounds of their match Friday night. Perdue won a decision against Jared Sell. This was Perdue's first boxing match.
Trainer Spc. Jason Schmidt talks to fighter Spc. Destin Perdue between rounds of their match Friday night. Perdue won a decision against Jared Sell. This was Perdue's first boxing match. (Jason Chudy / S&S)
Members of Company A, 404th Aviation Support Brigade, in their homemade boxing ring. They are, back row, from left, Maj. Don Nitti, company commander; 1st Sgt. Gary Durant, who challenged company soldiers to build the ring; Sgt. Jacob Paddon; Spc. Mason Truss; Staff Sgt. Brian Pridemore and Spc. Shawn Jackson. Front row: Spc. Ryan Miller, Spc. Thomas Ray, Spc. Michael Pecero and Spc. Christopher Rains.
Members of Company A, 404th Aviation Support Brigade, in their homemade boxing ring. They are, back row, from left, Maj. Don Nitti, company commander; 1st Sgt. Gary Durant, who challenged company soldiers to build the ring; Sgt. Jacob Paddon; Spc. Mason Truss; Staff Sgt. Brian Pridemore and Spc. Shawn Jackson. Front row: Spc. Ryan Miller, Spc. Thomas Ray, Spc. Michael Pecero and Spc. Christopher Rains. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

CAMP SPEICHER, Iraq — The non-alcoholic beer flowed, cigars were smoked and punches were thrown.

It may have been Halloween, but forget trick-or-treating. It was boxing night on Camp Speicher.

For the past six weeks, soldiers from Company A, 404th Aviation Support Battalion have held Friday night boxing matches near their compound on the western side of this former Iraqi air base.

“It’s entertaining, totally entertaining,” said Pvt. Cory Morris of the 57th Medical Company, one of about 400 at the fights.

Battalion officials have estimated more than 600 at earlier fights.

It’s not Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but they make it as close as possible. The beer’s alcohol-free but plentiful, the cigars are usually Cuban, the round card girl wears an Army brown T-shirt and desert utility pants.

On this evening, six soldiers climbed into the ring for three minute-long rounds of stress relief and crowd-pleasing action.

“This is something I’ve never done before,” said boxer Destin Perdue as he wrapped his hand before the fights. “It’s a challenge. I like sports and am not afraid to try anything.”

In the first bout, the 159-pound Thomas “The Twomp” Twombly took a decision from the 160-pound David Diaz.

The 169-pound Perdue fought the second match, taking a decision from 170-pound Jared Sell.

“It was great,” said the Pensacola, Fla.-native Perdue after climbing out of the ring. “I enjoyed the hell out of it.”

In the final match, 188-pound Antone Dillard won the decision from the 180-pound Brian Richards.

“They’re getting a whole lot better,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Williams of the 180th Transportation Battalion about that evening’s matches. Williams, a former All-Army boxing coach, and Ishaimal Mingo teach boxing to 15 soldiers nightly.

It’s not just a male-dominated event, either. Williams coaches four female soldiers, and they’ve even fought in previous weeks.

“It’s a sport like any other,” said 1st Sgt. Gary Durant of A-404. “You’ve got to have training. If you don’t, it’s ugly with a high risk of somebody getting hurt.”

Many of the soldiers hadn’t fought before arriving in Iraq, and Williams said as the training progresses the fights are safer.

“There have been no injuries,” he said, “though there have been some feelings hurt.”

But the majority of the fighters and crowd leave happy.

“Entertaining the crowd,” said Morris as he left the ring area at the end of the evening. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The ringleaders

If you build it, they will come. Who said that only works in movies?

Soldiers from Company A, 404th Aviation Support Battalion built a boxing ring out of junk they salvaged from a scrap yard.

Now, their Friday night fights draw upwards of 600 people.

Seven weeks ago, Spc. Shawn Jackson, Spc. Thomas Ray, Spc. Christopher Rains, Spc. Michael Pecero, Sgt. Jacob Paddon and Spc. Ryan Miller were challenged to build a boxing ring by company 1st Sgt. Gary Durant.

They had no plans, they had no supplies. They had no problem.

“The hardest thing was getting the supplies,” said Pacero. The soldiers scrounged junked tires from 5-ton trucks and metal Air Force pallets for the floor and then built from there. They added padded corner poles and side ropes tightened and braced in.

When they finished, the floors were firm and the ropes springy but strong enough to support a fighter’s weight.

“We were thinking safety first,” said Rains.

Once the ring was in place, they realized that there was more to boxing matches.

Staff Sgt. Brian Pridemore stepped in as emcee, announcing each evening’s card and filling time between matches with public service announcements. Spc. Mason Truss and Spc. Nathan White jump in to take care of the sound equipment and music.

They even get different soldiers or civilians to serve as judges.

Finally, there’s referee Jimmie Jordan who smiles as he climbs into the ring, even though the crowd boos as his name’s announced.

Booed, that is, by the hundreds of people gathered at A-404’s boxing ring for Friday night fights.

— Jason Chudy

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