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Boxing alleviates troops' frustrations as warfare threat becomes more intense

AREA CHAMPION MAIN, Kuwait—Pvt. Glen Lane and Specialist Marlon Roblero have trained on target-precise rifles, and they live amid the machinery of war. On Saturday, though, they scaled down to the most basic weapons—fists.

The two squared off in a corner of the 82nd Airborne Division's desert camp in Kuwait for a three-minute boxing round. The bout provided exercise and frustration relief but also helped hone the paratroopers' hand-to-hand combat skills, an unimaginably intense level of warfare for young men, many of whom were walking high school hallways one or two years ago.

"This is for play. This is for fun," said Roblero, a 33-year-old from San Francisco, now with the 325th infantry regiment. "But if we have to do it for real, I know my blood would be, Whooo! the adrenaline and stuff."

He lost the round, one of several conducted with gloves, protective headgear and "Rocky" chants from the encircled platoon, clad in desert camouflage. Others competed in grappling matches, a hybrid of wrestling and Brazilian jujitsu.

The Gulf War in 1991 displayed the advantages of U.S. cruise missiles and smart bombs. Infantry units rarely engaged in combat. More than a decade later, chances are even slimmer that the young Americans will wind up facing off man-to-man with an Iraqi soldier in the desert sands.

"With the technology, it doesn't happen that much anymore," said Pvt. 1st Class John Butina, of the 325th, a native of Latrobe, Pa. "But you have to train for that possibility."

Just as the Gulf War demonstrated the value of technology, the "Blackhawk Down" debacle in Somalia two years later proved the nightmare of urban warfare. American soldiers in Iraq could end up drawn into street fighting and building searches.

You could go into a room and somebody grabs your weapon and takes it away," said Lane, 20, winner of the boxing match. He was raised in rural southwest Virginia and never got in a fight in high school.

Even with their strict physical training, paratroopers say hand-to-hand fighting would be physically and psychologically exhausting.

Sgt. Matthew Johnson, 24, of Knoxville, Ill., calls it the "warrior mindset." Johnson and fellow Sgt. Kendall Bougouneau, 22, from the Virgin Islands, put their infantry platoon through a few boxing rounds Friday that left Johnson with a nasty facial bruise.

"Anybody can plot an artillery round or fire a rifle," Bougouneau said. "It takes more out of you when you're face to face with somebody. It's you or them."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.