Tactical force: Fort Hood offers combatives training
October 21, 2011
- "The stuff that we do is meant to be done in full kit, down range, against a fully resistant opponent."
- "During a tournament, if you lose, you dust yourself off and you pick yourself up by the boots and go again next round. If you lose down range, you go home in a body bag."
- ... the winner of a hand-to-hand fight in combat is whoever's buddy shows up first with a gun ...
FORT HOOD, Texas - A team of four Soldiers, dressed in full kit, stormed the room with a clear objective -- subdue and cuff two enemy targets, using force if necessary.
These Soldiers conducted numerous room-clearing iterations, and each time they would enter a newly configured room, without knowing if they were up against a compliant opposition. Because the enemy was dressed in high gear impact-reduction suits, it allowed for the Soldiers to not pull any punches, resulting in a more realistic training environment.
Captain Aaron Smith, the team leader for Team 8125, Company B, 81st Civil Affairs Battalion, 81st Civil Affairs Brigade, was one of the two enemy targets during the combatives training Oct. 13 at the Fort Hood Combatives Training Facility, and he said he saw the benefits of the course's realism.
"You can talk about what you would do in a situation all day long, and you can mimic walking through it, but (adding the impact) gives you the ability to, as realistically as possible, to train," he said of the close-quarters combat training. "It's all of the mental challenges with the stress of physicality thrown in it."
While wearing the suit, Smith said he felt the pressure of the strikes and the fear and intensity of the situation, just without the pain.
These Soldiers were in the process of gaining their Tactical Combatives Certification, the level-two course offered at the FHCTF, under the direction of Sgt. Brad Cannon, Fort Hood's senior combatives instructor.
Cannon said that while combatives gets more attention for the competition side of things, its primary focus is to prepare Soldiers for down range.
"I think that Soldiers in the past have definitely been focused more on the competition aspect of it," he said. "Especially leaders, when they think about combatives, they think about Soldiers rolling around in the grass for Sergeant's Time Training. What we want to do is we want to show Soldiers, and especially leaders, that the Fort Hood Combatives Training Facility is a tactically sound training environment. The stuff that we do is meant to be done in full kit, down range, against a fully resistant opponent."
Cannon added, "During a tournament, if you lose, you dust yourself off and you pick yourself up by the boots and go again next round. If you lose down range, you go home in a body bag."
During the training, the Soldiers discovered that even though they've learned an assortment of techniques to use in close-quarter combat, sometimes simple is better.
"The big thing is that if I have tools on my body that are going to end the fight at the pull a trigger, why wouldn't I want to bring that into the fight," Cannon said. "If I have a gun, if I have a knife, if I have a map marker that I can stick into somebody's eye in combat, why would I attempt to finish a choke? Why would I ignore the tools that my unit has given me and go for an arm bar?
"We tell Soldiers that the winner of a hand-to-hand fight in combat is whoever's buddy shows up first with a gun, and we really, really preach that here."
Cannon explained that the different martial art styles the Soldiers are taught, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, are fundamental to gaining and maintaining a dominant fighting position or transitioning to a more dominant fighting position if the fight goes to the ground, but he said that combatives is about more than just that.
"With the new doctrine that's being taught here at the Fort Hood Combatives Training Facility and across the U.S. Army, before the Soldier even learns what the mount is or what the guard is, which are body positions that are associated with combatives training and very widely known, the Soldiers are handed M4 dummy rifles and are taught how to control space and range while maintaining firing capabilities," Cannon said.
In the Basic Combatives Certification, the level-one 40-hour course taught in one week, Soldiers are introduced to fundamental fighting techniques, including basic weapons retention and transition drills and basic ground fighting techniques, before finishing with the clench drill, Cannon said.
"The clench drill is where Soldiers are taught various ways to control their opponent while standing against a fully resistant opponent," he said. "They're taught to defend themselves, how to close the distance aggressively and how to control their opponent while standing."
Upon completion of the level-one combatives course, Soldiers have the option of transitioning to the level-two 80-hour course that offers a deeper understanding of tactics involved in combatives.
"If Level 1 is all about how and this is what we do, in Level 2 we really start to tap into the why and just the fight theory of it all -- what do we do once we get into this position, what are my options," Cannon said. "Can I finish with an arm bar or do I transition to a standing position and reengage with my primary or secondary weapon?"
Private 1st Class Courtney Rutan, the medic for Team 8122, B Co, 81st CA Bn., 85th CA Bde., who is in the second week of the level-two course, said she struggled to break away from the grappling mentality on the first iteration of the room-clearing exercise, but improved the more times the unit ran through the scenario.
"I automatically went into 'where do I hit him to make him do that' instead of just being mean and making him do it," she said of her unit's first go at clearing the room. "That's why it's good to run through this to get that out of your system."
Smith, also in the second week of the Tactical Combatives course, agreed that repetitions were very beneficial.
"It's that learning curve, where you go from just repeating things that you've seen to being able to utilize them without thinking about it," he said, "where it's just a knowledge level that you hold."
The repetitions also helped the Soldiers familiarize themselves with their team, Rutan said.
"I loved how we went into the room in the same order each time," she said. "The first time I was working with Thompson it was a little rough; he did something that I was like, 'why did you do that?' and I'd ask him (after the round). The next time (and each time after that) was better. We stayed in those teams within the team and we communicated pretty well I thought."
Smith said that by going through the room-clearing exercises and experiencing what it is like to be both the attacker and the one being attacked, he sees things a little different.
"In a real combat environment," he said, "it's helped me understand that I don't have to use force as much as the threat of force to control an individual. "
There were a handful of Civil Affairs Soldiers enrolled in the level-two course, and Smith said they took up the class to become a more complete Soldier.
"This is something that we did to improve our ability to defend ourselves in an environment where we may or may not be able to use our weapons, due to either the appropriateness of the level of forces, the rules of engagement or just the proximity of the individuals to ourselves," he said.
Cannon said that the combatives courses offered at the FHCTF are meant for Soldiers of all rank, and he hopes that units across post see the benefit of sending their troops his way.
"They are always encouraged to send their junior enlisted Soldiers, their noncommissioned officers and their commissioned officers," he said. "We've had from a private all the way up to a full-bird colonel, just within the past couple of weeks."