U.S. women soldiers slug it out in desert boxing spectacle


U.S. Army female soldiers Spc. Jennifer Nelson, 21, from West Palm Beach, Florida, left, and Sgt. Jessica Dull, 26, from Battle Creek, Michigan, face off during a boxing tournament at Camp New York, in the Kuwaiti desert, Saturday. About 16,000 US troops are expected to arrive to the Gulf region within the next two weeks.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 12:58 a.m.

CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait (AP) - They're blond, sunny-faced and good friends, but at a boxing ring in the Kuwaiti desert on Saturday, these amateur women boxers beat the heck out of each other.

Surrounded by cheering soldiers standing on tanks and Humvees encircling the ring, Sgt. Jessica Dull and Spc. Jennifer Nelson stole the show at a boxing tournament featuring 24 of the thousands of U.S. troops stationed just south of the border with Iraq.

Dubbed "smokers," the fights, featuring both female and male soldiers, are a nod to the old tobacco-fumed boxing clubs of yesteryear, with soldiers sometimes settling grudges in the ring and the spectators puffing on cigars if they can find them.

The level of pugilistic skill is minimal. All the fighters in the evening's dozen bouts were rated "sub-novice" and displayed less fancy footwork and snappy jabs than sheer aggression.

Fighters who threw punches like windmills received lusty cheers from hundreds of comrades who clambered aboard tanks for a better view. Those deemed too cautious drew boos and shouts of "Box!"

Dull, weighing in at 194 pounds, and Nelson, just seven pounds lighter, didn't need prodding. The two intelligence analysts agreed to fight each other for a little exercise and fun.

"War is a contact sport, and boxing fits with it quite well," said their commanding officer, Col. David Perkins, 44, of Keene, N.H. "We surround the ring with tanks to keep their focus."

Perkins' 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division will be joined by two brother brigades in the next few weeks, part of the U.S. military's biggest buildup in the region since the 1991 Gulf War.

For 2nd Brigade, which recently completed the largest live-fire exercise since the war, boxing has proven a popular diversion for troops who seldom leave their sand-blown camps _ named New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia after states struck in the Sept. 11 attacks.

For the Army, the boxing tournaments are about blowing off steam and providing entertainment.

"We're friends _ just not when we're in there," Dull, 26, of Battle Creek, Mich., said as she chewed on her mouth guard.

At the beginning of the match, both women came out swinging _ and looking only for head-shots. The punches weren't pretty, but they were plentiful, many looking more like slaps and karate chops.

Dull landed more, driving Nelson into a corner on several occasions and knocking her helmet in front of her eyes. The referee appeared ready to stop the fight, but Nelson appealed vehemently to continue and slugged it out for the full two, one-and-a-half-minute rounds.

Dull won by unanimous decision and, like the male victors in various weight categories, was awarded a gold medal.

"My head is ringing," said Nelson, 21, of West Palm Beach, Fla., who received a silver medal. "I didn't think it would be as aggressive as it was. She was very aggressive."

By contrast, Dull was pleasant and polite as she munched a hamburger later outside the food tent, an M-16 slung over her shoulder.

She acknowledged that she always plays sports to win. Boxing is "very good training and gives you a good cardiac workout."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top