By Staff Sgt. Kelly S Carlton (Leonard Wood)November 25, 2015
Fort Leonard Wood's combatives team has been invited for the second-consecutive year to the Fort Bragg All Armed Forces Combative Invitational Tournament, which is slated to be held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Dec. 9 to 11.
The team earned the second-place trophy in the 2014 tournament, and three of 10 fighters have accepted the invitation received in mid-September.
While participants heading to Fort Bragg for the invitation-only event are hoping for the top spot in this year's tournament, the other fighters are striking out for a chance to place in the Fort Hood, Texas, post tournament at Fort Hood, slated to be held Dec. 14 to 17.
"I was humbled down there (at Fort Bragg) last year when I lost," said Spc. Hector Leon, military police officer, 988th Military Police Company, 92nd Military Police Battalion, who will be returning to Fort Bragg to compete in the 140 pound weight class. "We got second last time, and we are definitely going for first this time. I know what they bring to the table, and I am ready for them this year."
Sgt. 1st Class Calvin Cunningham, platoon sergeant, Company B, 169th Engineer Battalion, 1st Engineer Brigade, who will meet his opponents in the 170 pound weight class at Fort Bragg, said he is honored to be invited back for his second year.
"It means a lot, because you have to earn the chance just to compete at the Armed Forces tournament level by making it to the finals of a post level tournament," Cunningham said. "The battle is not over because, during your train up, someone may challenge for your slot. You have to be ready to go at all times and try to stay injury free as well as keep your weight within range."
Head-coaching duties for the team have recently been passed to Sgt. Anthony Hampton, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Engineer Battalion, who also competes in the 205 pound or greater weight class and will coach and compete at Fort Hood.
"Being the head coach for the team is a great privilege and an honor. Getting to be a competitor shows the Soldiers that I can lead from the front and still win," Hampton said. "If your team wins, as the coach it is satisfying, but getting to compete makes you feel like you actually contributed to the team's points."
The Army focuses many activities and messages on Family. Leon said the Fort Leonard Wood team really is a Family.
"We watch the fights together; we train together, and we joke together. Rank and bad attitudes go out the window when we are here," Leon said. "We make each other better -- you know 'iron sharpens iron' kind of thing."
Cunningham said he feels the same Family spirit.
"Anyone who ever said they 'did it all on their own' is lying to your face. My teammates and friends really make it all work," he said. "My teammates make sure I get everything I need on the mat, in the gym and in the cage."
Army combatives typically includes MMA, but the post team has an advantage to the under-trained boxing aspect of the sport with assistant coach Capt. Geoffrey Uhal, operations officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, who is a boxer by trade.
"Boxing possesses a certain skill set that is generally the weakest among the fighters in the combatives circuit," said Uhal.
"The fighters are going to get to Fort Hood and Fort Bragg and see a bunch of people who keep their hands too low, who don't pick good angles and who stand square-up giving a whole bunch of meat to throw punches at," he said.
Uhal has been working on these weaknesses with the team and will be coaching at Fort Bragg.
"I have been coaching this team for 10 months, and I have definitely seen an improvement with the hands," he said.
"When I first arrived, what I witnessed were bad punch mechanics. Being able to drop your weight into a punch by putting your weight on the correct foot is fundamental to the mechanics of boxing. If we get them to move around correctly, they'll be able to beat anybody -- good footwork will win the day," he added.
For Cunningham, who said his goal is to be No. 1 in the Army in his weight class, being nervous isn't an option.
"Our coaches push us to our limits. We get knocked down, submitted, bleed, sweat and sometimes maybe even cry. If you go through all of that, then there is nothing to be nervous about," he said.