Staff Sgt. Aaron Price, a drill sergeant with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, had never punched one of his Soldiers. On Tuesday, he did it repeatedly -- in the presence of Lt. Col. Collin Fortier, his battalion commander, and Capt. Matthew Graessle, his company commander.

Price was not out of line, though. His job was to act as an assailant during the company's certification of 32 Basic Training Soldiers in Level 1 of Modern Army Combatives. The objective during the certification is for the Soldiers to ward off an attacker by achieving one of four possible clinches.

Eight Soldiers from each of the company's platoons were selected to be certified, explained Graessle, either because they won their platoon tournament in their respective weight class or because they were chosen by their drill sergeants.

The Soldiers were well-prepared for the event.

"We did the initial MAC training with the entire company and then we did refresher training in bouts, sporadically, about once every 10 days throughout the cycle," Graessle said. "And prior to the skills test the drill sergeants gave them, we trained them back up to make sure they knew the technical aspects of it."

Fortier and Graessle agreed that getting Soldiers certified during Basic Combat Training is a logical step.

"These Soldiers are really trained at the level of what we would say a certified Level 1 is in the Army," Fortier said. "So why not give the ones who are that good that reward, I mean, they've earned it."

The preparation paid off - all of the Soldiers received the certification.

Pvt. Gerald Saafi never imagined being able to prove himself as a hand-to-hand combatant.

"I've never been in a fight in my life," he said. "It was pretty good. I loved it."
Price was excited for his Soldiers.

"I feel bad about hitting them; you don't want to hit your Soldiers," he admitted. "They did real well. (They had) to achieve the clinch at close distance and they did that. I'm proud of them."
Fortier considers certifying Soldiers during basic training an investment.

"These guys are the future of the Army combatives program," Fortier said, pointing at one of the Soldiers. "One day (this Soldier will) be a sergeant, he'll be training his people. So why not start it early. It's the right thing to do for the Soldier, and it's the right thing to do for the Army."