FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Air as cold as the inside of a freezer fills the basement of the United States Army Combative School here. Growls of intensity echo down the hallway, filling the area.On the left, at the end of the hall, are wrestling mats. A group of more than 10 Soldiers dressed in their Army combat uniforms circled the action in front of them. The yelling and roaring made the place seem like a scene from a battle in a Roman amphitheater.Three instructors watched from the sidelines with their arms crossed."Time!" one of the instructors yelled.Two fighters rose. One was a female roughly five feet tall. She had her golden blonde hair wrapped in a messy bun - a competitive smirk on her face.That female was Spc. Audrey J. Holland, a 21-year-old St. Petersburg, Florida, native, and the youngest combatives instructor for the Fort Bragg USACS.Holland, also the newest instructor at the school, began her journey in the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu seven months prior."I've been practicing to compete for seven months, and it all started once I got a job here," Holland said.Holland spoke of her craft with a confident smile as she described her attitude towards the sport."I only compete to win," Holland said. "I'm always going to shoot for the top."In June, Holland volunteered to compete in the Tap Cancer Out 2019 Charlotte BJJ Open. It was her first competition.Tap Cancer Out is a fundraising organization that host tournaments that help raise money for those affected by cancer."My dad was diagnosed with cancer about eight years ago," she said, "so I felt like I related to the cause of the tournament."Staff Sgt. Ramon Vazquez, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Fort Bragg USACS, said despite her young age, she is more mature than her peers in a lot of aspects."The Army forces you to grow up in a lot of ways," he said.On the day of the tournament, things became stressful for Vazquez, who had been coaching Holland since she started at the school."I was nervous for her the day of the tournament," Vasquez said. "I was late to the competition."He asked her to video chat him in between matches to let him know how she was doing. The tension of not being able to be there to coach and support his teammate weighed on him, Vazquez said.
During this time, he had to trust that he taught her well."I had to rely on her telling me when she won to let those nerves go away," Vazquez said.By the end, Holland ended up besting five out of six competitors in her weight class. That earned her a second place medal and the ability to call her father and tell him about what she had accomplished."Oh, my God, he was so excited," Holland said. "He's a really emotional guy, so he cried when I told him."Holland said she felt her accomplishment showed that anyone can succeed if they work hard."You never know until you try," Holland said. "Never say no to new opportunities; you never know what you might like."