Army demonstrates combative training at Shaw AFB

bmarchant@theitem.comFebruary 28, 2013 

Instructors Pvt. Lane McCartney, left, and Spc. Kurt O’Conner spar with each other during the hand-to-hand combat course at Shaw Air Force Base on Wednesday. The Third Army recently added the course to prepare servicemen and women for hand-to-hand combat.

BRISTOW MARCHANT — The Sumter Item

— An Army foot patrol on the streets of Afghanistan suddenly turns into hand-to-hand combat, with an American soldier’s life depending on his instinctive fighting skills.

It could happen at any time. But fortunately for the service members involved, this incident is happening in a gym at Shaw Air Force Base, part of a demonstration of the Army’s hand-to-hand combat training.

This kind of combative training takes place at Army bases across the country, preparing soldiers to defend themselves in any situation. But before last month, the Third Army lacked a combatives team at Shaw until this weeklong course on a blue mat laid out in the base fitness center. Four instructors teach a mix of airmen and soldiers basic fighting skills that may one day save their lives.

“We teach an MMA style — or mixed martial arts style — that’s a mix of wrestling and ground techniques,” said Sgt. 1st Class Don Edwards, one of the instructors for the course. “It’s used to finish a fight or defend yourself until help arrives by subduing or restraining your opponent.”

The course teaches a mix of grappling techniques to block an attacker’s punch, create space to reach for your weapon or take an attacker down to the ground to gain an advantage.

Like all the instructors, Edwards has completed a level-three hand-to-hand course, the second highest. The 11 soldiers and five airmen who signed up for the course — organized last month and holding its first session in the fitness center this week — will complete level-one training by the end of the course. The training will continue each month, and successful students will hopefully spread the techniques to others in their units.

Members of the military are trained to defend themselves with the weapons of war on the battlefield, but hand-to-hand techniques can be used even if they run into trouble off base.

“Combatives can be used in peacetime,” Edwards said. “We don’t encourage our soldiers to go out and start fights, but it does give them the confidence that they can defend themselves if they’re attacked.”

The course isn’t required training for soldiers, but the Army recommends all soldiers complete at least a level-one course, especially if they’re facing deployment. Although it’s an Army program, the Third Army’s position on an Air Force base allows airmen a chance to learn the fighting techniques as well.

Lt. Col. Jeff Jarry with the 20th Fighter Wing got a chance to learn some of the hand-to-hand moves when he studied jujitsu under a level-three combatives instructor while stationed in Qatar.

“Fortunately, I never had to use those skills in Afghanistan, but if you do have an altercation with someone, it’s critical to have that skill,” Jarry said.

Senior Airman Josh Sergent was a wrestler in high school, but this week’s lesson is his first experience with the Army’s MMA style and with the intensive 40-hour training course.

“I’m sore,” he said. “My neck’s sore.”

Jarry likes that hand-to-hand combat training incorporates martial arts techniques such as the jujitsu instruction he received.

“That’s especially important for women because jujitsu teaches you to defend (against) a larger, stronger opponent,” he said, noting that women in the military will now be deployed in combat operations overseas. “Honestly, I wish my wife had had this training before she went to Afghanistan.”

The possibility of conflict overseas hung over the demonstration, even for the airmen taking the course like Sergent. “When you’re deployed,” he said, “anything can happen.”

-- Reach Bristow Marchant at (803) 774-1272.

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