KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — The fists were flying at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation center during the final exercise of a level one Army combatives class Thursday.

“Elbows up! Elbows up! You get in there and you don’t let go!” bellowed the lead instructor, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Yurk, to the student who struggled to get the proper clinch on his adversary.

“Listen up you guys, stop getting blood all over my gloves,” Yurk said jokingly.

Although it was serious business in the ring, there was a lighthearted and fun atmosphere in the musty room. The 40 students were all gathered around in a circle, making a human ring for the fighters to maneuver in. From the sidelines, they coached out loud to their comrades as they whirled about the ring. Each time one of the students put their opponent in the clinch, they cheered their classmate as he or she exited the ring and was replaced by a new clincher and puncher.

The exercise used to be called the clinch drill, but it’s called the “option 3” drill now. It is the culmination of a 40-hour Army combatives course designed to teach 21 core tasks in reacting to man-to-man contact. Each student has to go four rounds and use one of the clinch techniques to stop their attacker.

“The great thing about the option 3 drill is it gives every soldier in the course the opportunity to choose to close the distance with the enemy or to quit,” said Yurk, a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. “It is a microcosm of what it means to be a soldier. We put on the uniform each day and we’re part of the warrior caste system: It’s our job to close with the enemy.”

Before being put in the ring, Yurk gave a lengthy safety brief to reassure his students who were nervous before the bouts. “If you follow what I taught you, your best will be good enough.”

“I’m doing a little better than I thought I would,” said Spc. Jordan Thomas, with the 1st Cavalry Division protocol office. “They’re not holding back at all. I’ve had a ringing in my ear for about an hour. It’s pretty good training though.”

During the fourth round, the anticipation of the successful end to the clinch drill energized the circle of soldiers. Their coaching and cheering of their fellow students in the ring grew louder until the last soldier made a successful clinch and the drill ended.

Thomas said that he was somewhat confident going into the exercise, but the drill taught him a lesson in patience.

“I learned that getting punched in the face hurts a lot, but more than anything, I learned patience and how to be calm in a stressful situation,” he said.

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