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Band of Boxers

At world-renowned Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, military veterans have found a tight-knit support group and a place where they are understood.

The buzzing energy of hundreds of boxers hitting the bags is typical of an afternoon at the world-renowned Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn. But on this particular Thursday, you can find trainer David Murray coaching his group of veterans in what has become a tight-knit group -- along with the usual banter you might imagine from a band of brothers on the front lines.

Gleason's owner Bruce Silverglade created this program for veterans to train for free, after being contacted by the Veterans Affairs Hospital in New York City. A veteran himself, Silverglade said he "just wanted to give back to the veteran community." After being cleared by their physicians at the VA, veterans are welcome to come Tuesdays or Thursdays to train with Murray.

Murray has been in the boxing world for over 30 years and said that the program is really beneficial to the veterans: "The guys get to work out some stuff here -- you know, release some stress on the bag. Whatever they have going on out there, the vets come in and they hang out, get some exercise. I think it really helps them having a place they can go to."

The diverse group of vets from all areas of the military still find the same bonding environment, or as Army veteran Matt Williams said, "Leaving the military is like leaving home, and things aren't the same when you come back. Coming down to Gleason's is a release, you know, getting to see Sean (Marine veteran Sean Kraemer) and Steven (Army veteran Steven Camilo) is like seeing family."

Trainer David Murray steadies the double-end bag for Marine veteran Sean Kraemer. Kramer said that his favorite part of coming to the sessions is "getting to talk s--- with the guys and David." Kramer also mentioned the benefits of working out and releasing stress while he is attending classes at Fordham University, where he's studying Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Business/Environmental Economics.

Kraemer, left, and, right, and Army veteran Steven Camilo spar during a boxing session. "Gleason's is my second home," Camilo said. "Nobody judges one another ... people care about each other. The training helps with channeling my anger and negative emotions."

Army veteran Haneef Abdullah trains on the double-end bag. In order to be allowed to train at Gleason's, each veteran needs a letter from the VA stating they are in good health. The boxing group was created when a doctor from the Veterans Affairs Hospital in New York City reached out to Gleason's owner Bruce Silverglade to hold free training sessions for veterans.

Murray wraps Abdullah's hands. Abdullah served in the Army and was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas before being deployed to Vietnam.

Trainer David Murray, left, instructs Navy veteran Arnold Rapatalo on a stretch before a session. Murray has been in the boxing world for more than 30 years. He trains the veteran group twice a week with flexible hours so that the vets can work out when it fits their schedules.

Kraemer, left, and Camilo, right, work the heavy bags at Gleason's Gym. Kraemer and Camilo met while attending Fordham University. Camilo has been a part of the program since August 2016 and keeps going because of the camaraderie and the respect he feels. "I work out alongside other vets, and the bond we possess is untouchable. It's a feeling I can't explain, and I have no words for it."

(L-R)Kraemer, Camilo and Matt Williams catch up before a training session. "Things aren't the same when you come back from active duty," Veteran Chris Matthews said. "Leaving the military is like leaving home; you no longer have that support system. Coming to Gleason's and getting to see Sean and Steven is like seeing family."

Air Force veteran Aaron Valenti, center, trains on the speed bags with Kraemer, left. "I appreciate training where you look for methods in the madness, which is what the Marine Infantry was to me -- looking at chaos and seeing where your opportunities and advantages belong in the midst," Kraemer said. "It's a release from the monotony, and it keeps you sharp."

Abdullah warms up before a boxing session. While he is constantly dancing and moving, Abdullah mentions that he missed his subway train stop earlier due to dancing while listening to music on his headphones. About that he laughed and said, "Don't tell my wife!"

Army veteran Natasha Lemaitre, right, gets her hands wrapped by Murray. "I was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; my MOS [job] was Carpentry and Masonry," Lemaitre said. "I'm very happy Gleason's Gym is where the program is held; I always feel very welcomed. I absolutely love attending this program; it is therapeutic mentally and physically, in my opinion."

Lemaitre hits the heavy bag. She said she hopes more women veterans will join the group. Lemaitre enjoys working out at Gleason's because, she said, Murray makes her laugh and is exactly what she would imagine a boxing trainer would be.

Kraemer, left, and Camilo, right, spar during a boxing session as Murray observes.

Kraemer finishes a boxing session with some pushups. Kraemer was an Infantry Assaultman serving in Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq. When he's done attending Fordham, Kraemer plans on moving back to Texas and investing in some land to start building a sustainable community.

Kraemer takes a seat in the locker room. When Kraemer first started coming to the gym, he didn't have hand wraps, so trainer David Murray gave him his own. He considers Murray not only his trainer but a friend.

Murray, left, shows veterans Aaron Valenti, center, and Haneef Abdullah his moves before a boxing session.

Abdullah is the oldest member of the group at 70, but that does not deter him from keeping up. He laughs while waiting for Murray to help him put get a pair of boxing gloves.

Kraemer, left, and Murray share a moment in the boxing ring. Kraemer said Murray is the perfect trainer for vets: "He gets our sense of humor, and his wisdom and training methods are outstanding. [Gym owner] Bruce Silverglade giving vets the opportunity to condition here and train with David is a godsend."

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