CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Packing on the pounds became a good thing for Marines here April 24.
More than 40 servicemembers pushed, moaned and groaned their way through the first bench press invitational meet this year held by Marine Welfare and Recreational Services. It was an open contest Marines welcomed to break up the hum-drum of daily routines.
"It's great to have competitions like this," said Lance Cpl. Daniel A. Nieman, 20, from Ft. Worth, Texas and a supply administrator with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "It makes you get in the gym and also makes time pass by."
The bench press contest tested lifters' strength and endurance while boosting their morale.
Athletes weighed in prior to the contest, received rules, regulations and were told how they would be scored. The contest was no different than others hosted by Marine bases in the United States. Competitors were told to lie down on the bench, keep both feet on the ground and not arch their backs as the bar was pushed up.
Staff Sgt. Mike E. Sroka, of Charleston, South Carolina and a radio operator with Combat Service Support Battalion 7, won the competition with a lift of 285 pounds.
"It feels great to be the base champ," said 30-year-old Sroka. "I have to keep working out and be ready for the next."
Sroka walked away with the win weighing in at 147 pounds.
This was the first bench press contest for many of the competitors. Some entered just to do something different. Others used the event to prepare for upcoming contests.
"First time entering a bench press contest," said Army Sgt. Terry L. Gathers, 28, a mechanic with the Army's 507th Medical Company, 30th Medical Battalion.
Gathers, from Santee, S.C., said the event was a good break from the constant operations Marines and soldiers endure.
"Under the stressful environment, this was something I looked forward to besides combat," he added.
The first-time event was a kick-off for more contests to come, said Jon. C. Williamson, the MWR coordinator for the base. Future bench press event are scheduled for once a month, expanding categories for weight classes with increased participation.
"Right now our feet are wet," Williamson said. "This was a learning experience for us.
"We want to keep everyone's mind off on what's going over here for a short time and let the troops know we are here to support them in any way possible," he added.