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FORT BLISS, Texas (Aug. 30, 2011) -- As the center of Fort Bliss continues to shift toward the East Fort Bliss footprint, a signature warrior program has also moved. More than a week ago, the Fort Bliss Combatives Program headed east and opened a new 1st Armored Division-funded facility to bring their efforts closer to Soldiers, and also expand their own training capabilities.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Pretat, Fort Bliss Combatives NCOIC and a Soldier from Operations Company, 1st AD, said relocating their facility, now at Bldg. A493 on Sapper St., was the right move for the program.

"We had a couple [junior Soldiers] come to a [Basic Combatives] class and the first thing out of their mouths was 'I can't wait until I deploy so I can save up the money to get a car because I can't get over here,'" said Pretat of their former building at West Fort Bliss. "We even had combatives team members who sometimes couldn't make it to training because they couldn't catch a ride. We're now pretty much a five-minute jog from every brigade footprint."

The 15,000-square-foot combatives center, formerly 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st AD's dining facility, is larger than its predecessor with 9,000 feet of physical training space, and the rest for classrooms and storage. Retired Lt. Col. Eric Howard, Bliss Combatives director, said while getting the new facility was a great first step for the program, approximately 750 man hours went into making it a reality, work performed by himself and his small staff.

The new center offers: 18 elliptical and cross-trainer machines, an elevated three-foot cage, a ground floor cage, approximately 5,000 square feet of spring-boarded mats, a 2,000-square-foot area for striking bags, and a separate area equipped with wall pads to learn wall tactics. Pretat said their new capabilities are not only some of the best the Army has to offer, but are the best he's seen anywhere.

"People from places like Forts Benning and Carson come here and asked 'how do we start our ordering process? How do we get this type of equipment?'" he said. "I've trained at some of the best places, the 'number one gym in the [Ultimate Fighting Championship'] type of places, and they may have a mat half the size of ours, and it's not spring-boarded like ours. Our mats make it so if a 300-pound guys slam me, it may hurt a little, but I'll be able to get up and come back the next day."

A change of venue is not the only evolution occurring for the combatives program across the Army and at Bliss in particular. Former Army Combatives Levels I through IV are now called Basic Combatives, Tactical Combatives, Basic Instructor, and Tactical Instructor respectively. Among other courses, the Bliss Combatives program continues to facilitate and certify Soldiers who've completed Basic and Tactical blocks of instruction. They also can organize Basic instructor training where trainers from the U.S. Army Combatives School at Fort Benning, Ga., come to the borderland to train and certify new instructors. USACS will only train potential Tactical Combatives instructors at Fort Benning.

A local evolution which is currently underway is 51 Soldiers, most of which are assigned to Bliss units, are currently receiving Basic Instructor training at the Sapper St. facility, so that they can lead Basic Combatives training back at their own unit footprints. While this isn't a new effort at Bliss, Pretat said this current initiative will make large inroads for combatives here, both in his staff's ability to concentrate more on the post-wide program, and also Basic-level Soldiers will benefit with potentially smaller classes in which to learn.

"Right now we have 120-plus Soldiers come in every morning for IRT (Individual Readiness Training) for three hours because they need that block of instruction before deploying," Pretat said as an example, "so instead of that being all on us, everyone will be able to take care of their own [Soldiers.] There can be multiple classes of 20 or 30 students each, rather than 120."

Pretat added that while a lot of Basic Combatives will be taught at the units, he and his cadre will remain visible within these programs to monitor training for things like effectiveness and safe practices.

Howard estimated the Team Bliss program doubles the Army requirement of an installation and said while a lot of posts may focus more on the competition aspect of Army combatives, he and his cadre stress more of the education which combatives training can offer troops downrange. Pretat concurred and said the drive to teach Soldiers real tools they can use in terms of soldiering, while also helping them succeed competitively if that's what they're looking for, is a cornerstone of the Bliss combatives education. To further the focus on the battlefield and real-life

skills, the program has developed its own Battlefield Combatives Course and a Female Self-Protection Course.

"Here we teach positions on how to defend against someone eye-gouging you or breaking your nose," he said, "and we'll also teach the competitive side because everyone wants to be competitive. They get more realistic training here, like 'this is a great sweep and will get someone off of you,' rather than 'this is a great sweep, but will probably get you punched in the face.' There's a T-shirt I've seen that said 'some people train to fight in a cage, we use a cage to train to fight…' that's a good motto."

The center, located between Sergeant Major Blvd. and Spur 601 near the Global Reach Access Control Point currently offers open mat availability Soldiers can utilize and train Monday through Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Starting Sept. 20 they are also planning to offer an evening availability Tuesdays through Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. Also, the post combatives team is always looking for new recruits regardless of experience, gender or size. For more information, call Pretat at 744-2467 or email shawn.pretat.mil@mail mil, or Howard at eric.j.howard8.civ@mail.mil.