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CAMP COYOTE, Kuwait — Who are the baddest Marines in the desert?

Testosterone, sweat, a fair amount of trash talk and sand would determine.

The reward?

A half-eaten pack of cookies, a pack of Marlboro cigarettes and a pouch of Red Man tobacco.

Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment held a Strong Man competition Sunday to find out who were the toughest Marines this side of the Iraqi border.

Three teams of four Marines and a fourth team of four Navy corpsmen squared off, pushing Humvees and pulling pallets, among other things.

“We just kind of cooked up the idea really,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Larry Tentinger, organizer of the homespun idea of a Strong Man competition.

“We’ve been working with different ideas for PT. During all this time waiting, we need a way to stay in shape, and the Marines like the physical aspect of the Strong Man.

“The winning team also gets bragging rights,” he added.

The Strong Man was made up five separate events:

• Water jug carry: Marines had to carry two 40-pound water jugs as far as they could for 60 seconds.

• Water bottle hold: This was an endurance competition to see who could hold two 1½-liter water bottles with their arms straight out in front of them for the longest time.

• Dead-hang pull-ups: Each Marine put on his flak jacket, complete with bulletproof inserts, to see who could do the most pull-ups.

• Pallet-pull: Marines raced through the sand, each dragging a wooden pallet in the sand behind them.

• Humvee push: Teams went head to head to find out how quickly they could push an armored Humvee for 50 yards in the sand.

“I wanted the events to have more stamina and endurance involved rather than outright strength,” Tentinger said.

“Being able to carry things for a distance is a good measure of battlefield application for how we’re training.”

He admitted the competition is a little off the wall.

The events, he explained, were put together with the Marines’ everyday gear.

“I haven’t met a Marine yet who didn’t like a little competition,” Tentinger said. “This suits their mentality.”

The competition was supposed to be friendly.

But Marines berated each other, hounded opponents to quit and after each event, traded accusations of cheating.

Among Marines — especially Marines isolated in the desert for weeks with no end in sight — this was healthy banter.

“It’s a stress reliever,” explained Marine Lance Cpl. James Smollen, a member of Team Phoenix, the overall victor and newly crowned Strong Men of Weapons Company.

“Every day out here is the same ole thing. It takes a toll on you mentally. It’s like the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’”

“It takes our mind off other things,” another winning team member, Lance Cpl. Jorge Pongo said. “Instead of thinking about not getting any mail, we’re talking to the other squads about how they lost.

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