AR RAMADI, Iraq -- On a dark Friday night in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, Marines load ammunition into assault rifles and machine guns, mount their high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles, and roll out to find one of their warriors a good fight.
Escorted and supported by his fellow Marines of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Lance Cpl. Jerome F. Amato, a 22-year-old machine gunner, makes the short trip each Friday to compete in 1st Brigade Combat Team’s Friday Night Fights Boxing Smoker on Camp Ramadi.
Amato represents his battalion in an inter-service competition pitting Marines, soldiers and sailors against one another in a boxing tournament.
The opportunity to participate in the tournament has been a morale builder for Amato, who has competed in one match so far.
“The inter-service rivalries make it a lot of fun,” said Amato, a native of New York, N.Y. “I like to fight and it’s been a great break from the work we’re doing out here.”
The weekly event was created to build the morale of troops in the Ramadi area, promote espirit de corps and provide an escape from daily activities, said Army Sgt. First Class Alexander Roa Ramos, 31-year-old staff non commissioned officer in charge of administration for the 1st Brigade Combat Team.
The fight nights feature 10-15 matches of varying weight classes and a live band for entertainment, typically lasting two to three hours.
With more than 300 service members in attendance for each event, the atmosphere is set for intense competition, said Ramos, a former golden gloves boxer and native of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see the different services come together and compete,” said Ramos.
In his first fight representing the battalion at the tournament, Amato won by unanimous decision after three hard fought rounds.
The win was an accomplishment for Amato, who hadn’t fought in the ring for nearly 5 years.
“The fight definitely knocked some rust off,” said Amato. “It felt good to get back in there and hit someone.”
Amato began boxing at the age of 13, after some urging from his parents.
After fighting for four years, Amato earned a professional youth record of 23-3 in the light heavyweight division before stopping at the age of 17.
Amato’s desire to fight resurfaced shortly before his current deployment with the battalion.
“I just realized that I missed it,” said Amato. “I knew I wanted to fight again.”
Amato’s plans to fight again were put on hold by the deployment, until he heard of the tournament after three months in country.
Gaining permission to fight just two days before the event, Amato entered the ring with little training.
“I went into that first fight having not really trained since August,” said Amato.
Despite his lack of training for the event, Amato was successful in his first bout in 5 years.
Amato was inspired by his initial success, hoping to go far in the tournament, but the difficulties of the fight proved troublesome.
During his first fight, Amato suffered a broken nose that could keep him from competing in the remaining weeks of the competition.
Disappointed but determined, Amato vows to use his time away from the ring to train for the next tournament to be held in the coming months.
“For whatever amount of time I have to be away from the ring, I’ll be training,” said Amato.
Although Amato enjoys the opportunity to fight in Ramadi and hopes to win one of the upcoming tournaments, the deployed exhibitions are only practice for a larger goal.
Upon his return to the states, Amato plans to try out for the Marine Corps boxing team.
Every fight and all training in the coming months are dedicated to earning a spot on the prestigious boxing team.
“These fights are just stepping stones to get me where I want to go,” said Amato.