WARSAW, Poland — "Be All You Can Be." The Army returns to this slogan after 22 years, but what does it mean for the Soldiers? For Sgt. 1st Class Johan Mackie, civil affairs senior sergeant, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, it provides the opportunity to continue pursuing his passion: mixed martial arts.
"I've been fighting since I was thirteen. I had a really good friend growing up and he was a really good boxer and it's because of him I got into boxing," said Mackie.
Mackie, an immigrant from Sweden, started his career in the California National Guard as an infantryman in 2008 before transitioning to active duty. His first duty station was U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, South Korea where Mackie was a part of the United Nations Command Honor Guard.
"In Sweden at the time, you couldn't fight professionally, and I wanted to fight professionally and become a world champion," says Mackie. "That was actually the reason I came to the United States. I ended up joining the military to have a stable job and good income, and fortunately I've been able to fight a few times while in the military."
While serving overseas in Korea, Mackie was given opportunities to continue his passion as a fighter. He was able to fight Nae Chul Kim in Taiwan.
“He was the 2009 Grand Prix World Champion in kickboxing and I was able to fight him in Taiwan while I was stationed in Korea. So I was able to fly to Taiwan and fight there,” said Mackie. “So there are a lot of good opportunities in the military to do things that you’re passionate about.”
And once again, while serving overseas in Germany, he was given the opportunity to fight in a Polish Armed Forces Mixed Martial Arts Gala, on March 31, against Pfc. Pawel Oleszczuk, a Polish soldier.
The gala, Walke Mamy We Krwi 3 (We Have Fight In Our Blood 3), extended an invitation to compete to U.S. service members serving within Europe. Mackie will be the first ever foreign fighter to compete in the tournament.
“The entire civil affairs team is extremely proud of Johan’s willingness to not only represent our team, but to represent our nation and our branch of service as the first U.S. Army service member to participate in this event,” said Master Sgt. Jose Espinal, civil affairs non-commissioned officer in charge, 21st TSC. “His humility, mental strength and “go-getter” personality are traits that make him a great Soldier, human being and an asset to any organization.”
The tournament is the third edition of a project started and organized by the Polish Ministry of National Defense in order to promote and popularize all martial arts amongst their Soldiers and society.
“I’m really looking forward to the fight, the ministry of defense did a fantastic job with this event and I’m really honored to be here,” said Mackie. “Hopefully we can continue to come out to these events and continue to build that bond and camaraderie with the Polish military.”
The match consisted of three rounds, with each round lasting five minutes. For 15 grueling minutes, Mackie and Oleszczuk traded blows and battled within the octagon in a true test of physical and mental grit.
“I thought it was easy to recognize that we’re allies, Poland and U.S. Thank you very much for your presence. Thank you very much for the fight, and thank you for everything the U.S. Army is doing on Polish soil,” said Mariusz Blaszczak, Polish Minister of National Defense.
In the end, Oleszczuk was victorious as the referee raised his arm after the judges decision.
“I feel good about the fight. I kind of knew my stamina wasn’t there,” said Mackie. “But that just means I’ll be back for sure.”
Mackie says he plans to continue his training as soon as he returns to Germany to prepare himself for the next event.