SPRINGFIELD, IL (02/25/2011)(readMedia)-- For decades the Army has trained its Soldiers in the art of combat; from weapons on the cutting edge of technology to the tried and true - their fists.

Approximately 18 Soldiers with the Illinois, Minnesota and Nevada National Guards completed the first ever National Guard-sponsored Modern Army Combat (MAC) Level III training outside of the MAC schoolhouse in Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 25 at Camp Lincoln in Springfield.

The Illinois National Guard is the first reserve or guard component to host the MAC Level III combative training event, said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Grant of Caseyville, the MAC course manager with the 129th Regional Training Institute in Springfield.

"We're the first Guard unit to host a (MAC) Level III and nobody else has done it, but there's a lot of folks who have talked about it," said Grant.

The Illinois National Guard has worked toward the goal of having the facilities and equipment required to be able to train MAC Level III for the past three years, said Grant. Illinois has hosted level I and II training over the years, but with the buildup of trained students, MAC Level III was the next step.

"It's an excellent opportunity for these guys," said Grant. "As level three trained, you can certify level I. Once we build up the number of level IIIs in the state, it'll be in a short time till every single Soldier in the Illinois National Guard has the opportunity to be trained and certified in combatives."

Grant said Soldiers are encouraged to take what they learn and train the Soldiers in their unit aiding in the overall combatives training goal of the Illinois National Guard.

MAC Level III builds on the Levels I and II which takes the grapples and escapes and adds standing fighting tactics and strikes. Soldiers learn how to use hand-to-hand combat in close-quarters combat instead of relying solely on their weapons. Even conducting combatives in urban environment setting showed how the training can be applied in a mission setting.

The Army has pushed combatives training during the last almost seven years by teaching Soldiers in basic training how to fight hand-to-hand as a critical skill.

Illinois was able to get all the necessary equipment for a National Guard command to hold a MAC Level III training program, said Sgt. Atreyu Ross of Mayville, N.Y., a combatives instructor with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment at of Fort Benning, Ga.

"Doesn't matter if you're active Army, Marine, Air Force," said Ross. "Everybody should be able to defend themselves, so why not start here."

Grant said training the Soldiers was a good experience. Their motivation and desire to learn is evident when they are out fighting on the mats, said Grant.

"Every one of the guys that show up have already been to (MAC) Level I. They've been to (MAC) Level II," said Grant. "They know what's expected. They know it's going be tough. But they volunteered to come. Nobody forced them to come. They want to be here. They want to train. They want to get beat up. They want to learn. And most of all they want to take this back to their units and train their fellow Soldiers."

With the Soldiers who traveled near and far to attend the training, the longest path was taken by Staff Sgt. Steve Owen of Rock Island, with the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery Regiment currently deployed to Sinai, Egypt. Owen was allowed to travel back to Illinois to attend the training, so upon his return to Egypt he will lead the combative course for the task force in Sinai.

"I was one of select a few who were (MAC) Level II trained," said Owens. "My platoon sergeant was the one that referred me and I told them it was an offer I couldn't refuse."

With this training, Owen is set to offer a combatives program for the roughly 1,700 Soldiers in Task Force Sinai.

"It's kind of overwhelming," said Owen. "I've never been put in this kind of position. Yeah, I'm a squad leader; but being in charge of a whole task force and training them in (MAC) Level I, that's big shoes to fill. Coming here, learning this stuff, it gives me the motivation that drives me to do that."

Combatives training has developed in the branches of the military since the increase in urban combat in overseas military operations, said Ross. The possible need to fight close quarters has heightened the importance of servicemembers to be ready to defend themselves armed or unarmed. With the Army and Marine Corps having their own unarmed combat styles and the Air Force currently developing their own, combatives has been a step forward in the U.S. military's ability to be combat ready in any situation.

"If you can't defend yourself in any given situation and you're not prepared for it, it can mean life or death and we don't want that," said Ross. "We want to have somebody say 'I've been in this situation before.'"

ROCK ISLAND, ILL., (10/19/2010)(readMedia)-- Officials from six National Guard states in the Midwest region including the Illinois Army National Guard, sent command representatives to Rock Island Arsenal Garrison Oct. 18 to speak with cadre about their injured soldiers in Community Based Warrior Transition Unit (CBWTU) rehabilitation program.

The program has existed for roughly four years on the nation's largest government-operated arsenal helping injured veterans from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The program helps rehabilitate Soldiers both mentally and physically and helps transition them back into their normal lives.

The states' National Guard commands work together with the CBWTU, medical facilities and civilian vocational rehabilitation agencies to help Soldiers seek medical attention and find work in the civilian sector.

Soldiers attend one muster every three months at Rock Island Arsenal, but can seek medical treatment in their hometowns instead of being away from family and other support at an active duty hospital in another state.

"In today's Army, the care and medical needs of our injured veterans is paramount," said Celletti. "These men and women went into harm's way while serving their country and they cannot be forgotten and left to struggle to make ends meet in their times of need," Maj. Gen. Dennis Celletti of Springfield, the Assistant Adjutant General - Army of the Illinois National Guard.

Staff Sgt. J.P. Lawson of Marseilles, a platoon sergeant with the CBWTU said the program allows for injured Soldiers to receive the one-on-one care they may not have received at active-duty hospitals after suffering injuries in a combat zone. The facility at Rock Island Arsenal is centralized allowing Soldiers to receive medical attention and take care of personal matters.

"The program is based mainly on getting Soldiers in and getting them to look at their overall care, not just physical but mental," said Lawson. "(The program) is also to help them transition either to a civilian life as they retire out of the military or ... they are actually returning to duty, getting ready for their life outside the war."

Lawson, an Illinois Army Guardsmen now attached to the CBWTP, attended the program in 2007 after returning home injured from deployment to Afghanistan. After going through the program Lawson returned as a cadre member to help fellow Soldiers receive the care they need. As a platoon sergeant, he said he has seen roughly a 90-percent success rate in the Soldiers from his platoon.

Lawson said he has seen Soldiers with all types of injuries in the program. From blindness to broken limbs.

Not all Soldiers going through the transition program have obvious injuries. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Eric Wolf of Jessup, Iowa, with the 445th Transportation Company out of Waterloo, Iowa suffered multiple noncombat related injuries while deployed to Iraq in 2009.

When he originally came home his treatments were at an active-duty station. With family hundreds of miles away Wolf dealt with mental stress.

Since being assigned to the CBWTU, Wolf has been able to get the medical attention he needs to lead a normal life. With the ability to stay in Jessup between musters, Wolf said he is able to spend time with his family and be present in their lives.

"With this program it allows you to get back your family and your family too does not have to go any longer without you," said Wolf. "When you have a wife taking care of four children and she's already done it through a deployment, it's stress on her too for you to get back. There it's really imperative that you two join back together and support each other."

With medical attention in their hometowns, Soldiers like Wolf are able to receive treatment from their local doctors, family doctors and medical facilities in a place they are comfortable instead of miles away from home.

Wolf said being with his family even during his treatments made his mental and emotional state easier. While Wolf's time with the program is not complete, he said with the treatment and vocational support he has received he has been able to heal both mentally and physically and he is ready to face life and the road to come.