Nation's Premier Combatives Training Prepares Soldiers for the Unexpected in Combat

SPRINGFIELD, IL (01/26/2012)(readMedia)-- A group of spectators gathered staring intently, clenching their teeth, pumping their fists in the air, and yelling as they encircle two warriors standing toe to toe; knowing that it will soon be their turn to step inside the circle. Those gathered were cheering for their fellow Soldier to take down his/her attacker by successfully completing a clench and ending the barrage of punches.

A total of 22 Soldiers from Iowa and Illinois National Guard units came to the Illinois Military Academy (IMA) at Camp Lincoln in Springfield Jan. 23 to 27 to receive instruction in one of the premier combatives locations in the country. The goal is to become level one certified within the Modern Army Combatives Program.

"We were the first National Guard site to hold a level-three combatives program class outside of United States Army Combatives School (USACS) at Fort Benning, Ga.," said Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Luca of Carrollton with 935th Aviation Support Battalion in Chicago, working for the Modern Army Combatives Program. "No other National Guard unit has ever done that. I know not too many Regional Training Institutes have a combatives program."

The Illinois Army National Guard Modern Army Combatives Program is conducted at the IMA and can provide housing, food, and combatives training at one site. In addition to the first-class facilities, the instructors, which include Staff Sgt. Steven Owen of Moline, Staff Sgt. Nick Grant of Caseyville, Sgt. First Class Robert Fehrholz of Springfield, Staff Sgt. Jae Russell of Springfield, Staff Sgt. Josh Lipa of Mount Zion, Sgt. Bernard Dickneite of Mount Vernon and Luca. Many of these Soldiers are award winning and have won several combatives tournaments themselves.

The Modern Army Combatives Program is in response to the ever-changing environment that Soldiers have found themselves in while in combat.

"We have found through reports that Soldiers go into a room and if their weapon misfires they don't know what to do," said Luca. "Or sometimes they are doing detainee operations and the detainee tries to go after them and they are not real sure what to do."

Life on the battlefield changes, which means techniques used by our military must adapt.

"The old hand-to-hand that we used to learn is not conducive to what is going on in the battlefield," said Fehrholz, a recruiter in the Recruiting and Retention Command and combatives instructor. "We are trying to teach them how to keep someone controlled, detain them, and get a dominant body position on them so they can hold them until backup shows up."

This has become such an important initiative that the Army has made learning it mandatory.

"The Army demands that there will be a level-one certified Soldier in each platoon, one level- two certified Soldier in each company, one level-three certified s Soldier in each battalion, and one level-four certified Soldier in each brigade," said Luca. "It's a pyramid training structure that guarantees that Soldiers are getting trained on combatives."

With that structure in place the Army can validate that collective learning is taking place. This training ensures that each Soldier can handle themselves in the midst of combat; ultimately instilling confidence.

"One of the things this combatives program does is instill confidence in Soldier; especially those who have never been punched or done ground grappling," said Luca. "They have a sense of confidence when they come into those situations. They know that, in the instance where this might happen, they have these skills to rely on and are not just fighting blind."

"It did give me confidence," said Spc. Katie A. Kastel of Bourbonnais with Company E, 634th Brigade Support Battalion in Joliet. "I had all these big instructors telling me even though I was little that I did a really good job. It makes me want to go back to my unit and teach others what I learned. I encourage other smaller people out there not to be afraid. I think it's something every Soldier needs to know."

Story by Sgt. Jesse Houk, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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