CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq -- The temperature outside is at odds with the fiery action inside the Camp Korean Village gym. Sweating brawlers testing their skills on a make-shift ring light up the night, their story told with landed blows and the bruises they leave.
The ring-keeper, mastermind of the athletic endeavors displayed nightly at Camp Korean Village, 46-year-old Master Sgt. Michael L. Stephens, communications chief, headquarters and support company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, explains the value of time inside the ring. “It keeps your mind and body strong. It keeps you from becoming demoralized, especially over here in Iraq,” he said.
The animated hand motions and life in his eyes tell of the former All-Marine boxers’ zeal for the sport and his desire to show students the value of learning the age old skill.
“I seem like I’m happier when I’m working out, especially boxing, because boxing has been my joy and my pride because it’s helped me develop relationships with fellow Marines and people in general,” Stephens said.
The advantages for boxers extend beyond the tangible benefits seen in the gym, Stephens explained. “I think that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and also, I think, a healthy spirit, too,” he said.
The students at Camp Korean Village are finding out that boxing is sometimes a lonely venture. “Boxing is only one of the few sports where it’s individual effort. How much you put into it is how much you get out of it,” said Sgt. Gregory D. Miller, administration clerk, command element, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
The experience of going it alone teaches discipline, Miller said. The discipline sharpens the mind and helps Marines make better decisions when it counts, he added. The discipline that training for the sport instills has a direct effect on Stephens’ students. “It’s just like being a Marine. You listen to the drill instructor or you listen to your senior leadership. That invokes discipline in each and every Marine,” Stephens said.
The camaraderie of mutual athletic exertion tends to blur the line of rank structure, if only slightly. The respect that a blood stripe brings, however, still affects the training experience. “In the gym they still look at me as master sergeant…but, they know when we’re in the gym, hey, we’re here to train,” Stephens said.
The foremost theme running through Stephens’ training sessions, the deeper life lesson can be summed up in two words: Never Quit.
Stephens served in the Army as a radio-man and in the Air Force as an ordinance technician. Stephens went from blue to green with an inner-service transfer from the Air Force to the Marine Corps in 1986, enlisting as a corporal.
“I’ve been through three military services. I’ve been in the Army for four-years, the Air Force for two-and-a-half years, and then I’ve been in the Marine Corps since ’86. And I’ve never quit in any of those three services,” he said.
When the training sessions stop and his time in the Marines ends after 20-years of Marine Corps service, Stephens hopes the foundation he’s built for his students in the ring is built upon with further success.
“I get them started in boxing and then maybe some of them will continue on to the All-Marine boxing team and then possibly go to the Olympics,” he said. “If I can train some guys and see them go further than I did, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) arrived in Iraq late November and provide security to this region of the Al Anbar Province.