Not all hostile situations in combat require lethal force, explained 1st Sgt. Rob Nicholson, acting sergeant major for the 82d Civil Affairs Battalion and manager for the 3rd Infantry Division’s combatives program.
He said soldiers sometimes have to control someone who is unarmed but nonetheless hostile.
“Soldiers need the confidence to be able to protect themselves and control someone who is unarmed but still hostile,” Nicholson said. “But kids growing up nowadays have been discouraged from settling differences in a physical way – fighting. And we’re sending our soldiers into combat zones where they need to know how defend themselves in situations that might not call for lethal force.”
Combatives training is both a sport and means of training soldiers to defend themselves and others in a hand-to-hand combat situation, Nicholson said.
“This is not a battlefield,” he emphasized. “We have rules. We want soldiers to gain confidence, deal with their fears and learn to defend themselves, but this is not a life-and-death situation. Aggression is the key to survival in a real hand-to-hand combat situation, but overzealous behavior is not tolerated here. Combatives is a very controlled sport compared to what would be needed to survive in a real battle. We don’t want anyone getting hurt here.”
Nicholson said combatives allows soldiers to use mixed-martial arts moves, but no actual hitting or kicking is allowed.
He said the object is to pin an opponent, not disable him.
During the Marne Week combatives tournament, soldiers squared off according to their weight class, with each man or woman trying to slam the other to the mat, and then pin him or her to the floor. Referees monitored each match.
Some matches looked like a sluggish wrestling match, while others looked like a judo bout.
One man would flip the other to the floor and attempt to hold him there with his shoulders against mat. The other would then roll himself and his opponent, sometimes turning the momentum in his favor, and pin his opponent in a matter of seconds.
Not all the matches were male vs. male or female vs. female. Spc. Sara Covey, 92nd Engineer Battalion, said there was only one other woman in her bantamweight class, so after winning that class, she volunteered to compete in the flyweight class.
Covey squared off with Pfc. Eli Manning, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, who was taller and heavier.
In seconds, the two were stretched out on the mat, with Manning pinning Covey by hyper-extending one arm in an arm lock and the other in a scissors hold that included having his legs wrapped around her neck.
Realizing he was choking her, he adjusted his legs to pin her right shoulder instead. This move effectively pinned her to the mat. The match was over in less than two minutes, but both players were thoroughly exhausted.
“She’s good,” said Manning, panting. “This is the best fun in the world. It’s a good workout and great stress relief.”
After fixing her long hair back into an Army regulation bun, Covey gathered her composure and laughed about the brief match. Her face was still glowing red from the near-strangulation hold Manning had on her minutes earlier. After a few deep breaths, she was able to speak.
“He’s pretty good,” said Covey, smiling as she took more deep breaths. “I have to give him that. What I think Army combatives teaches me is patience.”
Covey and Manning complimented each other’s strength and agility. The two talked about the match, which took longer to discuss their contest lasted.
At the conclusion of the flyweight competition, the champion was 1 Lt. Joe Crumpton, 3rd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. Spc. Nathan Freeman, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s Brigade Special Troops Battalion, won the heavyweight division.