CAMP MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq -- Little free time and long days in the sun are just a few things that contribute to stress in a combat zone. The constant threat of rocket and mortar attacks is another. There is much here that these Camp Lejeune Marines can't control - but there is a tool they use to beat their stress and anger - physical exercise.
"The main reason I see people come in here is to take care of their stress, whether it's from boredom or from battle," said Lance Cpl. Adam M. Groves, one of the four Marines who run the gym here. "When they leave here it definitely looks like they worked out some of that energy."
The gym here has followed 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment through their moves from Mahmudiyah to Fallujah and back to Mahmudiyah again. Marines realize the importance the gym has to the welfare of their troops.
"When they're not working, Marines have choices. They can A, sleep; B, watch movies; C, go to the Internet café," said Staff Sgt. Kelly M. Crawford, a Marine with Combat Service Support Battalion-1. "The lines are pretty long at the internet café. We all know how Marines hate to wait in line."
The gym here is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Riflemen and administration clerks work side by side to improve themselves and relieve their stress, but not all stress comes from outside the wire.
"Marines have a lot to be stressed out about. Being away from their families and having little time to talk to them is enough to stress people out," said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Albert M. Delacruz, a 23 year-old from Paterson, N.J. "Without the gym I think we'd see a lot more fights and arguments. It would definitely hurt our effectiveness outside the wire."
The gym isn't just for relieving stress; it can also build character. Getting to the gym when you could be sleeping or watching a movie takes commitment, though, according to Delacruz.
"When you get to the gym the payback is more than at you put into it. It pays back mentally and physically," Delacruz said.
Marines find few excuses to miss their appointments with the treadmill when their gym is located just down the street.
"In garrison you have to deal with everything that goes on with garrison life," said Crawford, 34, of Corvallis, Ore. "You have to get in the car to get to the gym. Here it's just a short walk away."
The ease in getting a good workout at the gym is a relief to the Marines.
"You come in, take care of what you need to, and carry on," said Groves, a 20-year-old from Deale, Md.
For some, the gym's benefits extend beyond themselves.
"The reason I go to the gym here? I told my wife I was going to look better when I got back than when I left," Crawford said with a smile.