By NICK DUKEOctober 2, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (Oct. 2, 2013) -- Perseverance and mental toughness are two of the qualities Soldiers seek to possess while in the military.
Sgt. William Tucker of D Troop, 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, 316th Cavalry Brigade, learned those qualities through the Army's combatives program.
"It's just a really great program," Tucker said. "From a conditioning standpoint, that's a big thing for the Army that we be in shape. It also builds confidence. You find things out about yourself. You find out that you can do something tough. You learn how to push through adversity."
Tucker first became involved with combatives in the spring of 2012 when he decided to join the brigade combatives team and enroll in the Level 1 combatives course, which teaches the basics and fundamentals of combatives.
Tucker said he had always been interested in combatives while stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., but never had the chance to enroll in a class until arriving at Fort Benning.
"At Fort Knox, we were so busy there, so I didn't have the opportunity to go through Level 1 even though I had always wanted to," he said. "I'd done combatives training here and there for PT, so when they said they had a Level 1 class coming up, I knew I had to do it."
At first, Tucker didn't seem to be cut out for combatives success, said Jason Keaton, the brigade combatives director.
"We had a team tryout, and he seemed really kind of unremarkable," Keaton said. "He seemed athletic and strong, but it wasn't anything outstanding at first."
However, about a week or two into team practices, there came a turning point.
"He came in here and stood at the entrance and kind of said, 'I don't know if I want to do this or not,'" said Mario Reyes, who helps Keaton coach the combatives team. "I looked at him and held up the roster that showed all the people who weren't showing up. I had only eight guys who had been there for more than two practices. At that point, I heard him kind of stutter a little bit before he said he would stick around."
From there, Tucker's skills began to grow.
"We started to see his progression over a period of time," Keaton said. "He became a leader and really dedicated to our team. He came from having some wrestling in his background to doing very well in our tournament."
Tucker cemented his spot on the team and also enrolled in Level 2, a tactical combatives course, while preparing to compete in the post combatives tournament.
While training to compete in the tournament, Tucker said he began to notice a difference in his physical fitness.
"When I started training for the post tournament, I was hurting," he said. "I wasn't in very good shape at all. I was having a rough time with height and weight requirements and passing PT tests. After doing the tournament, it's just not an issue whatsoever anymore."
Tucker said he dropped from close to 200 pounds to 170 at weigh-ins for the post tournament. There, he finished second.
"The only guy who beat him was a lieutenant colonel who had wrestled his whole life and was a brown belt in jiu jitsu," Keaton said. "For him to come in with very minimal training and to keep learning and being involved, it really shows you what it can do for a Soldier."
From there, Tucker went on to compete in All-Army, and continued to work on his physique.
At All-Army, he weighed in at 163 pounds, down from 170 at the post tournament.
While he said he didn't fare well at All-Army, he was not discouraged.
He came back to Fort Benning and enrolled in Level 3, a basic combatives instructor course. After that, he helped to coach the D Troop team to victory during the brigade combatives tournament, something he said was the high point of his combatives experience.
"It's had a really positive effect not only on myself, but I also think a lot of the guys in my troop have gotten a lot out of it," he said. "When we did the brigade tournament, it was really good for them and a lot of them have gone on to Level 2 and 3 since then … They got in better shape, but it's also a confidence builder. They stepped up and did something that no one else wanted to do. No one wanted to compete. It takes a lot to go out there when everyone is watching you and you could lose or get embarrassed. I think it just says a lot about these guys and how they are that they were willing to compete. You know they're willing to sacrifice and put themselves on the line."
Tucker said he credits combatives with teaching him lessons and skills that he said he will continue to fall back on throughout his career.
"There's nothing like being at the end of a match and just being absolutely exhausted and knowing that you have to give it everything you've got for another minute," Tucker said. "Once you do that, you learn something about yourself. It's very applicable to the battlefield. Once you've done combatives, you know that you can push through things. I think that's universally applicable to whatever I wind up doing."
Keaton said Tucker's increased confidence has been apparent to those who knew him before he began combatives.
"It's really given him the resiliency and helped him to develop his mental toughness so he can push through things," Keaton said. "I think he's really turned not just his physical appearance around, but he's got more confidence in what he can do."
Reyes said Tucker's progress was all a result of that moment where he decided to continue to practice rather than giving up.
"He had come in just to say that he wouldn't be here anymore, and he wound up sticking around for the practice," Reyes said. "If he hadn't stayed here that day, who knows what would have happened."