Fort Sill, Okla. -- Fort Sill dedicated the Cerrone Combatives Facility June 17, to Capt. Michael Cerrone, an Army officer who epitomized the fighting spirit instilled at the facility that bears his name.

Cerrone graduated the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2004. Following training in the Infantry Officer Basic Course and Army Airborne School, Cerrone served as a platoon leader in Company A, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C. He deployed to Samarra, Iraq, in August 2006 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and while on patrol Nov. 12 of the same year, an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee and killed him.

"Today is a bittersweet day as we pay tribute to an American hero, a Soldier who touched many of us throughout his life," said Maj. Gen. David Halverson, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general. "Michael was a paratrooper who embodied the warrior ethos, was brave in combat and took care of his men."

The captain's immediate family: mother, Betty; and father, retired Lt. Gen. Jim Cerrone of Lawton; and his brother 1st Lt. James Cerrone attended the ceremony.

The general spoke from personal experience having served with Captain Cerrone's father at Fort Sill where he met the Cerrone boys at an early age. Halverson said Michael's early life led him to become a cadet at West Point or to enlist, "because he wanted to be a Soldier and serve his country." That service wasn't one who went along with the flow. Instead Michael was the master and expert at what he did, said Halverson.

"He was completely committed to his profession and attended, additional training to further his leadership potential. He always did that, because he knew someday he would have to lead his men in combat," said Halverson, who added Michael sought out the

82nd Airborne Division because he saw it as an elite unit and wanted to lead from the front.

Col. John Drago, 428th Field Artillery Brigade commander, thanked all gathered for attending the ceremony; He expressed his appreciation for speaking because of his ties to the 82nd and for his friendship with General Cerrone and his family. He then emphasized the significance of the Cerrone Combatives Facility.

"This facility is a post asset and will be used to train all Soldiers at Fort Sill," he said. "It symbolizes many of the qualities and traits that Michael Cerrone exemplified."

For those not in uniform or those who served prior to the inception of the Modern Army Combatives Program, Drago spoke of the value of combatives training to the modern warrior.

"Proficiency in hand-to-hand combat is one of the fundamental building blocks for training Soldiers. It prepares them for close-quarters combat and for applying different levels of force in varying environments. The objective is to prepare Soldiers for an unexpected confrontation and when it develops to apply the techniques they learned to defeat their enemies and save their lives," he said.

In addition to the fundamental values of combatives training, Drago said it also enhances individual and unit fitness, develops personal courage and instills self-confidence and self-discipline.

"Today's dedication to Captain Michael Cerrone is fitting, because it is emblematic of his interest, some of his hobbies and the ethos he lived by," he said. "He personified the essence of what we will develop in our Soldiers who use of this facility hone their fighting skills."

So often the phrase "where the rubber meets the road" is used to suggest where the action actually happens. Located at the intersection of Crane and Dale roads, the facility, also known as the Pit, is an open air, partially covered facility built on a concrete pad with walls on the west and north sides. The roughly 6,000-square-foot training area is filled with a depth of about 5 inches of recycled tire rubber. It is here where that rubber will meet Soldiers learning techniques that may save their own lives and those of their battle buddies.

Staff Sgt. Michael Shannon, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 78th FA Advanced Individual Training instructor, said the Pit gives him a great place to bring his Soldiers to instill the warrior spirit and learn to close up and engage the enemy.

"This sure beats training in a grass field, which is where we trained before the facility was built," said the hulking Shannon, who looks like he tosses refrigerators in his spare time. "Every Soldier thrives on combatives, it builds esprit de corps and helps develop all-around good Soldiers."

As Shannon planted a similarly built Army specialist in the Pit, he said the rubber is a lot softer than landing on grass.

Staff Sgt. Charles Dunkle, chief instructor at the Fort Sill Combatives School, said the Cerrone Combatives Facility is a good complement to the training instructors can offer Soldiers at the "fight house." He said the Pit has ample square footage of training space and can accommodate larger units and groups of Soldiers. Because of the recycled tire rubber used to cushion Soldiers, they can also practice combatives techniques in full kit and more closely experience conditions they may encounter in combat.

For an officer who held a second-degree black belt in karate and wanted to provide those skill sets he knew it took to be a professional Soldier and a leader, many future leaders may well rise up from the Pit and follow Cerrone's example.

"I look forward to the thousands of Soldiers who will come here, train and gain the confidence they need to lead others in combat," said Halverson.

Page last updated Thu June 23rd, 2011 at 00:00