FORT HOOD, Texas (July 26, 2012) -- "Let's get ready to rumble," bellowed Brig. Gen. Dean Milner, III Corps and Fort Hood, deputy commanding general (Canada).

And with that statement, the 2012 U.S. Army Combatives Championship got underway at the Abrams Physical Fitness Center here July 26.

The preliminary bouts, featuring Soldiers and Airmen from 28 teams hailing from posts as close as Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to as far away as Japan, kicked off the championship.

The team from Japan is a unique presence competing at this Army competition because it is a joint team comprised of Soldiers and Airmen from different posts throughout Japan.

"It is a really big deal and a huge honor that the Army brought us out here to compete," said Tech. Sgt. David Turner of the 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan and captain of Team Japan.

"Being able to go along with our sister service and train with the Soldiers all it does is enhance the esprit de corps for both the branches when we come together as one team," said Turner.

Along with its unique composition, Team Japan also had to endure an extended travel time just to make the tournament.

"It was about a 30-hour trip altogether from Japan here to Texas," said Capt. Joseph Proctor, Operations officer, U.S. Army Japan.

Proctor was the lone representative from Japan at last year's tournament and Team Japan sent a partial team in 2010.

"Our goals here are to finish among the top 50 percent of teams and show pride in our units and commands," said Proctor.

This is the second consecutive year the Great Place has hosted the championship after the III Corps Combatives team retained the title during last year's competition.

The tournament features eight weight classes, from bantamweight at 110 pounds and under (for males) to heavyweight at 205 pounds and over (for males). Females are given a 12 percent weight advantage in each weight class.

The winners of each weight class will be awarded a championship belt. The team which accumulates the most points throughout the tournament will earn an engraved marker on the United States Army Championship Combatives Tournament Staff Sgt. Pedro Lacerda Cup.

A change implemented to this year's competition caused the number fighter's to decrease from 410 last year to 319 at this year's championship.

"The U.S. Army Combatives School at Fort Benning (Ga.) changed the registration process this year, so as to allow only one team per post," said Kristopher Perkins, Combatives director, III Corps. "That really lessened the amount competitors this year and allowed us to use a different format."

The format change involved having one weight class go completely through their bracket instead of just doing first round of each weight class.

"It really makes the Soldiers come here fit because they grapple back-to-back, said Perkins, "those in the best physical condition are going to have a distinct advantage."

Perkins also has seen the competition get better year-after-year, and he believes that the increased level of competition has been fostered by the emphasis that commanders have placed on combatives programs across the Army.

Before the championship started, an opening ceremony was held to welcome the competitors, give an invocation and have the national anthem performed.

They were also welcomed to the Great Place by Milner.

Milner then congratulated the competitors for being the epitome of the Warrior Ethos with the strength and confidence they have shown in getting to this championship.

The fighters will compete under basic combatives rules during the preliminary bouts on day one, progress to intermediate rules on day two during the semifinal stages, and finalists will fight using advanced rules on the final day of the championship.

Semifinal matches will be held July 27. Championship and third place consolation bouts will be held July 28.