Standing at a lean 6 foot 1 inch tall, Sgt. Richard Cole's stature is not an overwhelming presence; however, in a room full of Soldiers, Cole's energetic personality stands out amongst the crowd. That same energetic personality can be found on the mat, as Cole explodes with fierceness and precision that would make even the largest of men weary.
Cole, who is currently serving as a member of the principal security detail with the 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) in Kabul, Afghanistan, is an avid practitioner of Army combatives. His experience dates back to November 2010 when Cole participated in combatives for the first time with the 41st Fires Brigade based out of Fort Hood, Texas. Cole said that experience motivated him to continue doing combatives.
"The experience taught me that I didn't need a weapon to feel secure," said Cole. "I didn't have to think that just because someone was bigger than me that I was defenseless or I had no chance."
After successfully putting two of his noncommissioned officers to sleep during his first combatives experience, Cole's first sergeant recommended he join their combatives team. After joining the team Cole went on to participate in his first tournament.
Cole entered his first tournament in January of 2011, and while his impressive 6-2 record didn't earn him first place, he was determined to improve himself.
"Our coach was big on one style which was Jujitsu, but I couldn't win
just based of Jujitsu; I had to evolve," said Cole. "When I lost I went to another coach and had to evolve into a wrestler and then into a boxer."
In addition to learning new techniques, Cole also managed a healthier diet. His determination and experience paid off the following year when he entered his second combatives tournament.
"I had a lot of downtime to train; I had a better diet and was able to cut 15 pounds in three days," said Cole. "I rehydrated and put on 25 pounds within 24 hours. Walking into the tournament I was already 10 to 15 pounds heavier than my opponent, giving me a weight advantage, in addition to my vast knowledge of techniques."
Cole successfully bested eight different opponents and secured first place in the tournament. Cole said the victory felt unreal.
"The installation is so big, to be able to say you're the number one person in that weight class for that sport; first you have bragging rights, secondly it's an unreal feeling," said Cole.
While Cole has invested an immense amount of time and energy into his training, he had had many mentors who helped him along the way. One such mentor that had stood out to Cole was Command Sgt. Maj. Edgar Fuentes.
"Fuentes was my first coach in the hand to hand combatives program," said Cole. "He knew how to teach and develop Soldiers, what to say and how to say it. He wouldn't just coach from the sideline; he would actually get in there and teach you something."
Fuentes, who is now serving with the 2-82 Field Artillery, 3d Brigade, 1st Calvary Division, said he remembered training with Cole.
"Sgt. Cole to me was a coach's dream, easy to coach, never scared of trying something new and a good listener," said Fuentes. "Many times he was in the middle of a fight, and when I wanted him to do something, he executed exactly what he was instructed to do. But more than anything he had the potential of being a great fighter and a great Soldier."
Since Cole's victory in 2012 he has participated in two other tournaments, the Fort Hood Combatives Tournament and the Fort Bragg Combatives Invitational, both in 2013. At the Fort Hood Combatives Cole was 3-0 before being forced to stop due to a broken rib.
"My ribs were bruised from training approximately two weeks before the actual tournament," said Cole. "The first two fights didn't go to the ground so it didn't interfere with my performance, but the third round did. My opponent was trying to escape from a submission; he pushed his elbow deep into my ribs causing them to fracture."
Cole said he didn't feel the pain right away, but when he did he said the pain was excruciating.
"Due to the adrenaline, the severity of the pain was delayed, so I didn't experience an immediate surge of pain," said Cole. "About five minutes after leaving the mat is when the pain hit me. I tried to stand up and the pain was too intense for me to even stand."
Currently deployed to the New Kabul Compound with the 3d ESC, Cole joined the combatives program and began working his craft within a week of arriving in country.
Sgt. 1st Class Steven Barthmaier, the senior human resource noncommissioned officer with the 3d ESC and a level 4 combatives instructor, said Cole stood out to him because of his experience on the mat.
"Cole stands apart from his peers because he has a knowledge base that he shares regularly with even the most novice of beginners," said Barthmaier. "He always takes the time to explain instructions at length and to show the moves."
Cole said he plans to continue combatives and looks forward to his next tournament.
"Progress does not come by chance, it comes by change; change which requires hard work and dedication," said Cole. "I always tell my teammates train hard, fight easy."