The 197th Infantry Brigade, U.S. Army Infantry School, Maneuver Center of Excellence, recently hosted the inaugural Sledgehammer Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning.
Organization of the event, held May 4-6, was provided by the 197th Modern Army Combatives Program Committee and Soldiers from the 197th, 198th, 194th Armor Brigade, and 1-28 Infantry.
During the event 19 competitors from across the installation fought hand-to-hand for the championship titles. Soldiers fought in five weight classes: lightweight, middleweight, cruiserweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight.
The winners of the five weight classes, from lightest to heaviest, were: Staff Sgt. Kyle Erbe, 2-47; 1st Lt. Giorgi Chilingarashvili, 1-46; Staff Sgt. Justin Sablan, 2-29; Pfc. Joao Camargo, 1-28; and Sgt. 1st Class Travis Avwaerter, 1-19.
Sablan, a drill sergeant for Company E, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, explained why he chose to compete in the event.
“I’m fighting for fun,” said Sablan. “I used to box a long time ago and I gave it up since I’ve been the military, 14 years. I thought I’d give it a shot and see if I still got my heart left and show my battle buddies, hey if there’s something in front of you and you’re intimidated by it, have the courage to step up.”
The Modern Army Combatives Program enhances unit combat readiness by building Soldiers' personal courage, confidence, and resiliency as well as their situational responsiveness to close quarter’s threats in the operational environment. The skills gained from MACP allow Infantry Soldiers to close the final distance with enemies and finish the fight.
“Combatives is a big part of the spirit of the bayonet,” said Lt. Col Christopher Fowler, 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment commander. “What better way to showcase what we’re teaching our trainees, than to get our cadre and other permanent party members out here to compete against each other and keep the spirit of the bayonet and the Warrior Ethos going.”
Started in 1995 with the 2nd Ranger Battalion, MACP has spread at the grass roots level around the Army. It has been incorporated into the new TC 3-25.150 and Basic Combatives is one of the Forty Warrior Core Tasks of the Warrior Ethos initiative.
Safety was a key component of the tournament. Capt. Sean Morris, 197th Brigade surgeon, noted the procedures used to protect Soldiers, including thorough initial pre-screening and post-fight screenings.
“Before anyone went on the mat today, and after, we got everybody checked,” said Morris. “We didn’t have any major injuries at this event and we determined that by confirming with each service member.”
All Soldiers fought in their respective class, regardless of gender, based on weight. The weight class parameters were: lightweight (males: 125-140lbs, females 143.8-161lbs), middleweight (males: 155.1-170lbs, females: 178.3-195lbs), cruiserweight (males: 170.1-185lbs, females: 195.6-212.7lbs), light-heavyweight (males 185.1-205lbs, females: 212.8-235.7lbs), and heavyweights (males: 205.1lbs>, females: 235.8lbs>).
The lessons learned from this event will be leveraged for another tournament later in the year to prepare competitors for entry into the Lacerda Cup, Fort Benning’s all-Army combative championship. This year’s Lacerda Cup was held in April during Infantry Week and featured 19 teams from across the Army.
Competitions like this are designed to test Soldiers’ ability to finish the fight and reinforce the lesson, winning matters. There is no second place or honorable mention in combat.
As Sablan put it, “We’re Infantry, we fight to win. You close with and destroy the enemy in close quarter combat and most importantly you finish the fight.”