JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Soldiers with 17th Fires Brigade brawled for a chance to be champions during two separate combatives tournaments Dec. 12 at Wilson Gym and Dec. 14 at McChord Fitness Center.

The Army Combatives Program trains Soldiers in hand-to-hand combat for self-defense, said Sgt. 1st Class Earl Ullom, a Fresno, Calif., native, and platoon sergeant with Battery C, 1st Battalion (155mm Towed), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Bde.
While learning effective self-defense is the primary purpose of combatives, tournaments build on other qualities that help develop leaders within the Army, said 1st Lt. Marcel Wright, the executive officer with Company B, 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Bde., and a tournament officer in charge.

"It lets your soldiers see you put out maximum effort," Wright said. "It teaches soldiers to continuously push until there's nothing left to give. As a leader and a soldier, you have to constantly put that out there."

One way a tournament helps develop that mindset is by engraining Army values into the fight, Wright said.

"The purpose of the tournament is to not only build warrior ethos across the battalions, but also to see these guys compete, see them actually go out and embody that warrior spirit," Wright said.

The Army Warrior Ethos is comprised of four lines soldiers live by: I will always place the mission first. I will never quit. I will never accept defeat. I will never leave a fallen comrade.

For soldiers like Spc. Sara Terrell, a Blairstown, N.J., native, and a wheeled vehicle mechanic with Company B, 308th BSB, and Spc. Jerry Ledesma, a Weslaco, Texas native, and a radar operator with Battery F (Target Acquisition), 26th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Bde., placing the mission first and not accepting defeat earned them the title of champions.

"You get exhausted, but the whole time I'm just thinking 'I gotta get this' and just keep pushing it to come out on top," said Terrell, the fly weight/feather weight champion.

"It's motivation, I didn't give up," said Ledesma, the welterweight champion.

Ledesma said he didn't just push through for his battalion, but also for a fallen comrade that he will never leave behind in his heart.

"I just telling myself to do it for my father," he said.

Last year, when Ledesma was deployed to Afghanistan, his father passed away. For him, winning the welterweight title was a full embodiment of the Warrior Ethos.

For all competing soldiers, both tournaments provided Soldiers with invaluable leader development that comes out clearly on the mat, Ullom said.

"[During a tournament, you start] understanding soldiers capabilities, what you can work on, because you've got a lot of soldiers that have never been in a fight," Ullom said.

According to Lt. Col. Michael Melito, the commander for 5th Battalion (Avenger), 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, that's what makes tournaments invaluable leadership training.

"[There are] a lot of intangibles that we get out of this in terms of pride and espirit de corps, confidence and resiliency that we see in our soldiers," Melito said. "We see a lot of our junior soldiers out here that we, over time, promote to be our sergeants and our staff sergeants."

Building that camaraderie and confidence helps Soldiers learn how to motivate their team and lead effectively, he said.

The bleachers at both tournaments were packed with cheering soldiers and Family Members that came out to build that camaraderie along with the fighters.

"That's the best thing about it," Wright said with a grin. "Soldiers get amped about it, leaders get amped about it; it's camaraderie.

You see the units come together and you see the soldiers put out maximum effort."

The champions are slotted to compete in future tournaments, and for them the next few months will be dedicated to training, Terrell said.

For now, the champions have a chance to think about their victory and feel the pain that comes with hard work.

"It feels good," Ledesma said, rubbing a cut on his chin. "But I'm definitely going to feel everything tomorrow morning."