History Wars Iraq War

How faith, family and focus took this Marine through Iraq and to the Olympics

Joel Searls Avatar

Jamel Herring (right) with Felix Magallanes at a Marine Corps Ball. Photo courtesy of @jamelherrring.

Jamel Herring is most known for his boxing success as the World Boxing Organization junior lightweight champion from 2019 to 2021 with a record of 23-4. He is a 2012 US Olympian competitor, the only Marine to compete in the 2012 games and the last active-duty Marine to qualify for the US Boxing team since 1992. Herring deployed twice, once with the 2nd Marine Division and once with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group. His first deployment was in 2005 to Fallujah, Iraq and again went to Iraq in 2007. His deployment experiences consisted of a lot of convoys and security details during his tours, and he served as a gunner on convoys during his 2007 deployment.

Herring as a child in Long Island. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

Can you share with us about your life growing up?

I grew up in Long Island, Gordon Heights, and was always out and doing sports. I’m still close today with one of my friends from childhood who is an Army veteran. One of my influences from growing up was Stephen Brown (pronounced Stefan) and he was a Marine. He encouraged me to join the Corps and I already loved sports, so it made sense. He died in 2004 from lung cancer while still in the Corps and I named my oldest son after Stephen. Stephen was a year older, and he came back from boot camp in the Corps. I’m now a world champion boxer and U.S. Olympian and the only U.S. Marine to represent the Corps in the 2012 Olympics. The deployments made me appreciate the simple things in life. I came back and was happy to see grass and a good lawn, even proper plumbing. Now, even today I don’t ask for much. I’ve been to places where people don’t have much but then are grateful for what they do have. My deployment experience gave me a better aspect of how I look at things in my own life. I’ve seen people with little, but they are happy. There’s always somebody out there that wishes they were in your place. So, I was never the type of person who needed to have more. In reality, I have more than enough. I could be out chasing what I could have, or I could be happy for quality time with my friends and family.

Herring in the early 1990s. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

Do you have a spirituality?

I lost a daughter in 2009 due to SIDS. It took a lot of faith for me not to break. I took that negative and turned it into a positive. I look at my daughter as a Guardian Angel and I look at every decision based on character. I ask myself, “If I do this, how would my daughter view me” and keep her in mind when I do things more impactful for others…I go off of that…having my faith intact kept me on the right path.

What got you into Boxing?

Herring in the ring. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

A good friend of mine named Ashanti Henderson introduced me to boxing…I grew up watching it with my parents and friends but didn’t ever see myself doing it, especially when you come from watching the Rocky movies, I didn’t want anything to do with boxing. Growing up I wanted to stay out of the streets and would go from school to gym and then from home to bed. I didn’t have time to mingle and get in trouble. That’s the main reason why I picked up boxing and to stay busy. Over time I fell in love with the sport, took it more seriously, and then started studying it a lot more to get where I’m at now. Another influence was a fellow veteran (Army), Lindberg Freeman. We started boxing together around the same time and motivated each other.

Are there certain key traits and memories from the Corps?

Herring during his time in the Corps. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

When I’m in the boxing ring and am having a rough fight and go back to the corner, I always think about what I’ve been through just to get to this point. I always go back to a place in Iraq and have seen roadside bombings and had RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) flying directly towards me and stuff of that nature. Basically, it could be worse, and I have been through worse. More importantly, I know for a fact that there are Marines out there that look up to me and would love to be in my place. It’s more of a sense of, there’s no room for me to complain about the situation that I’m in. I’ve overcome so much, and I’ve been through worse and there are people who would love to trade places with me. I always think about those tough times in the Corps and think about everything I’ve learned from the beginning in basic training. Because a lot of people don’t know I spent my 18th birthday in basic training. I was still a kid when I went to boot camp…straight out of high school and right in the fire. I had to mature and grow quickly. Most of my adulthood so far took place as a United States Marine. It’s all I knew as a Marine growing up, so a lot of those Marine Corps traits stick with me.

Are there a top two or three of those traits that come to mind?

Herring with his fellow Marines in Iraq. From left to right: David Van Briggle, Andrew McMillan, unknown, Stephen Simms, Robert Tomkins, Jamel Herring, and Martin Corona. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

I’ll share a story that opens my eyes to this life and how serious it can be. In 2007, I was expecting my oldest son, who was named after Stephen. His mother was pregnant with him, and I happened to be deployed at that time. I’ll never forget this EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Sergeant giving us a class on what to look out for, like roadside bombs. I’ll never forget — he had a 2-week-old son, and a few of the Marines I was in class with out there in Iraq were fooling around and not taking him seriously. Rightfully so this Sergeant “lost it” and went off and he told us, “Hey I’m a father trying to get home to my newborn son and you guys are out here playing around. I’m giving you my time so that you all go home safely.”

Herring with his son. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

The guys wisened up and stopped fooling around, but a week later that same sergeant lost his life to a roadside bomb. I always think, this is really serious. This is really real life here. This was a man who was a good man and had a 2-week-old son. He has a son now that will never meet him. All his son will hear are his stories. I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be the Marine who falls victim to the war. I actually matured a lot more because of that real-life scenario and grew up a lot faster. That always sticks with me. I always share that story when other people take things for granted. There are people out there who really will put everything on the line for you to get to the next level. It’s my duty to give back.

Herring in Iraq. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

About a year ago…I went down to Camp Hope (PTSD healing center/foundation) to speak with Marines and veterans in general about their personal issues and what they have dealt with. I may be the champion of the world but at the same time, I’m a fellow brother to you guys as well and am still human. I go through the same hardships at times that we all do. Once I felt like we all connected, it just got a lot easier to communicate with these individuals.

Herring during his service with Andrew McMillan. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

Another trait I learned from the Corps is leadership. A great prime example: As a leader you have to learn how to deal with all types of personalities and people from all over. On the 2012 Olympic team, they voted me in as the team captain because of my military background. I took the honor very seriously. I’ll never forget, as a Marine, you can easily talk to Marines in a stern way and with civilians, you have to take a different approach. I can talk to this individual strictly and sternly, but for another individual, I might have to have a lighter tone and open up more not only to them but to patiently get them to open up as well.

Herring with his fellow Marines in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005. Photo courtesy of @jamelherring.

At the end of the day, as long as I got the same results down the road, I was happy with that. That is when leadership really came in. True story, these individuals, these Olympians…we actually still speak today because of having a great relationship and knowing how to be a good leader and to be more understanding of others.

Herring with his friend and Marine Yesenia in Iraq. Photo courtesy of Jamel Herring.

I owe that due to the Marine Corps…when I went to the Marine Corps, I was a kid and was in no position to lead. As time went on, I really grew into that leader that was expected of me and I have nothing but the Marine Corps to thank for that.

In what ways did the Corps prepare you as a boxer and in the community?

Herring with Marine Recruiters. Photo courtesy of @jamelharris.

Boxing is 80% mental, and 20% physical. The Corps strengthens you more mentally and even in basic training, your drill instructor will always tell you it’s to break you down and to build you up stronger. I truly understand the meaning of that even in the boxing world, even just in life in general. The Corps actually makes life easier for me to speak in life openly. When I went to Camp Hope, I respect every one of those men and women out there who open up about their traumas and past experiences in their lives, making it a lot easier for me to do the same. I instantly, as soon as I walk into the room, find something that can be picked out and connect with them. We will all be laughing and joking as if we knew each other for years. That just comes from great qualities and speaking skills thanks to the Marine Corps.

Is there anything you are doing for community service?

Herring at Camp Hope. Photo courtesy of Jamel Herring.

I’ve traveled out of the country and have gone from defending a world title and winning on Saturday to being, sore and bruised up on Sunday to getting on a plane just to go see fellow veterans around the world. Giving them a few days of my time. I have been really sore and in pain, but I felt there is a greater need out there and the greater good for me to do. I got on a plane, went out there for a few days and had a blast. I can honestly say that is probably a moment that I won’t forget, and they won’t forget as well.

Herring at Camp Hope. Photo courtesy of Jamel Herring

What are your next goals and plans?

Herring on a visit for the USO. Photo courtesy of Jamel Herring.

It’s many times day by day, but I want to continue laying down a foundation to where I can help others. Honestly, even though I’ve been through tragedies, I’ve lost my best friend and I lost a daughter, yet I still look at the great things I have in life. My next thing is to better themselves in their life and to continue going out there and speaking out. I also lost good friends I served with because they didn’t have someone to talk to or they couldn’t get the help that they needed. I don’t want to see that on my watch. I’m going to continue to speak to others, help others and be the best individual I can be in life. Taking my free time to go out there and share my love with others as well….to give back.

Herring supporting the USO. Photo courtesy of Jamel Herring.

If it wasn’t for the Marine Corps I probably wouldn’t be in the position where I’m at. People thought I was a good boxer, but, the mental aspects of the Marine Corps are what made me into a better boxer and a better fighter, not only inside the ring but out of it. That’s why I give so much love and respect back to the Marine Corps. Whenever they called me to come back and visit, hey I’m there. Give me the date and time and I’ll fly myself out there. I already had Marines ask me a few weeks ago to come to the Marine Corps ball. Give me the details and I’ll be there in my dress blues. I can still fit in them. I just need a haircut and a proper shave and I’m fine.