FORT STEWART, Ga. - Thick black- and blue-colored mats blanketed the far end of Caro Gym where bleachers once rested and basketballs bounced. Soldiers, barefoot and adorned in various configurations of the Army Combat Uniform, are paired off across the mats practicing arm bars and sweeps.

In one corner, a Soldier dripping with sweat, struggles to get out of the guard of Spc. Nathaniel D. Freeman, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to Company C, 1/3 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Freeman easily outweighs the Soldier by more than 50 pounds, but, after several attempts the Soldier clinches the sparring round and forces Freeman to tap out.

Freeman sits out during the next round to show a pair of Soldiers how to adjust their technique to perfect the move they are practicing.

“We’re not a bunch of [Ultimate Fighting Championship] fighters, said Freeman of the sparring Soldiers. “This is something that’s going to save somebody’s life.”

Freeman, who has served as co-captain of Marne East, one half of the combatives team the 3rd Inf. Div. is scheduled to field in the 2011 All-Army Combatives Tournament at Fort Hood, Texas in July, has personal experience to back up his claim.

While deployed to Mosul, Iraq, in 2006, Freeman said he used combatives training he had received prior to deploying to fend off a knife attack from an Iraqi boy who approached him at a checkpoint.

“I was able to isolate him away from my body and then disarm him,” Freeman said. “There was no thinking, it just happened.”

Freeman said the experience taught him the importance not only of combatives, but of practice.
Today, having more than five years of combatives practice under his belt, Freeman said he is as dedicated to the sport as ever, but his focus has shifted.

The horizontal construction engineer still competes - Freeman placed first in the heavyweight division of the 2011 Marne Combatives Tournament in May - and he regularly spars with Soldiers, but Freeman said he is now concerned with teaching Soldiers the Army’s version of hand-to-hand combat.

“When you teach other people you learn more,” Freeman said. “I don’t really like to call it teaching, I like to call it perfecting my skills.”

Since 2007 Freeman said he has taught hundreds of Level 1 certification courses, and he has taught several Level 2 certification courses. Due to his experience in combatives tournaments, Freeman said he was selected to be co-captain of Marne East. Freeman has helped lead two combatives practices per day for the team Monday through Friday at Caro Gym here.

Jorge H. Huizar, a heavy-wheel vehicle mechanic assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div., said sparring with Freeman is frustrating, but he appreciates the experience.

Huizar placed third in the welterweight division of the 2011 Marne Combatives Tournament and is slated to compete with Marne East.

“Besides the fact that [Freeman’s] just bigger than all of us here ... he actually does have a lot of technique,” Huizar said. “Rolling with him you actually learn stuff. He’ll take it easy so you can realize what’s going on in the situation.”

Huizar said Freeman taught him how to succeed at the triangle choke, a choke that strangles the opponent with one arm and the legs.

“I’ve always been able to get to the position to get the triangle choke but I’ve never actually been able to choke the person out,” Huizar said. “And he actually taught me one simple technique to accomplish choking them out.”

Freeman, however, attributes the successes of the Soldiers to the amount of heart they put into the sport.

“I have a lot of faith in these guys,” Freeman said. “There’s no turning back, we’ve got to place first this year.”