Despite the cancellation of the all-Army Combatives Championship in July due to budget cuts, Fort Hood soldiers have not stopped excelling in the program that participants said is more important than ever in today’s combat landscape.

The soldiers were disappointed when the cancellation news reached them, said Staff Sgt. Matthew McKeon, a senior instructor with III Corps’ Phantom Warrior Academy.

“We were training up for that tournament like it was going to happen,” he said, but their command allowed them to compete in a civilian tournament in its place.

Officials at Fort Benning, Ga., will determine if future all-Army championships will take place, said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Farris, the academy’s noncommissioned officer in charge of combatives. “Right now, it’s all up in the air.”

But that hasn’t stopped them from stressing the value of combatives at Fort Hood.

According to the U.S. Army Combatives School at Fort Benning, their mission is to prepare soldiers to defeat the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. It provides what can be a nonlethal method of fighting on the battlefield and includes training on maintaining control of one’s weapon and gaining control of the enemy’s weapon.

“We’re still at war,” Farris said. “Being able to fight is a key component.”

He cited the mental benefits combatives provide, which go well beyond the physical ones. Mental toughness is key in training soldiers to deal with unexpected situations.

“It gives you inner strength and drive. ... It builds resiliency and gives you a goal,” Farris said. “We don’t want the first time you ever get in a fight to be overseas in a fight for your life.”

Unlike the fighting for sport seen on television, combatives training pairs up soldiers of varied height and weight ranges and of both sexes. At times, a soldier may fight another who outweighs him or her by 100 pounds.

“There’s no better way to instill heart, motivation and determination in that soldier,” McKeon said, of one being outweighed by an opponent. “There’s a lot of soldiers who aren’t (infantrymen) who aren’t trained up to have that fighting mentality. They come through combatives and leave with the confidence that they’ll be ready to go.”

Reintegration tool

Not only is the combatives program helpful for preparing soldiers to deploy to war zones, it has also been a useful tool for many soldiers to reintegrate back into everyday life once they return.

“It saves a lot of soldiers’ lives,” McKeon said. “They come back from deployment and life slows down.” The built up tension can be released in the constructive environment of a gym rather than through unhealthy manners

The Fort Hood Combatives Training Facility, Kieschnick Physical Fitness Center, teaches the basic combatives courses and a tactical combatives course.

“The class load hasn’t changed, we’re still getting a constant flow of soldiers coming in to get certified,” Farris said. Class sizes range from 34 to 60 soldiers and classes are run nonstop throughout the year. Certifications are not only a badge of honor but also increase soldiers’ promotion points, Farris said.

The Phantom Combatives team is a three time all-Army champion. Whether or not those tournaments continue, they will keep training.

The Fort Hood championship tournament is tentatively scheduled for February, Farris said.

Contact Madison Lozano​ at or 254-501-7552.

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