BOURNE, Mass. – “You have to be very, very sure,” Staff Sgt. Vincent Cruz, told the men who had gathered around him, “you just can’t shoot somebody. You will be arrested.”
When can a Soldier fire his weapon? The answer to this question is not as easy as it appears.
For nearly a month Cruz, a member of the Guam Army National Guard currently assigned to a Mobile Combatives Training Team based at Fort Benning, Ga., had been at Camp Edwards, training fellow Guardsmen on the options they have when dealing with the question of “when to pull the trigger.”
Cruz had just conducted a drill in which a group of Soldiers, conducting a routine patrol in a village, is attacked by two villagers, one of whom has a knife while the other is unarmed. After subduing the threat, a third villager approaches the Soldiers with what appears to be a broken laptop computer in his hands.
“Here lies the problem; now that guy’s getting closer and I don’t know what to do,” said Cruz,” If it comes down to hands on, that’s where this combatives (training) comes into play.”
Combatives is the modern version of what used to be known as hand-to hand combat.
“Now when he starts acting (aggressive), you can use your techniques, knock him out … do what you have to do,” continued Cruz, “he may … be bruised up, a little bit of hurt feelings, but you didn’t kill somebody.”
In this combatives program the Soldiers are taught how to punch, kick, and defend against punches, kicks, choke holds, being grabbed in order to subdue an opponent.
If the scenario seemed a little farfetched, it isn’t. Sgt. Brandon Cabral, a military policeman, 772nd Military Police Company, 211th Military Police Battalion, took part in many patrols like this one when he deployed to Iraq in 2008-2009.
“The civilian population moves in and around you,” said Cabral, “They get close to you, they try to mingle with you. When I was overseas working with police transition teams, it was all about community policing and you had to interact with the population. You’re close to them and there’s always that likelihood of things going wrong.”
The Army’s Modern Combatives program consists of four levels:
- Level 1-Basic Combatives
- Level 2-Tactical Combatives
- Level 3-Basic Combatives Instructor
- Level 4-Tactical Combatives Instructor
All Soldiers receive some basic combatives training, usually in basic training or before a unit deploys, but not the entire level 1 course.
What Cruz and Sgt. 1st Class Nekeno Collier, an Active Duty combatives instructor from Fort Benning…are teaching is different.
This is the instructor course, level 3. This is also the first time that Fort Benning’s Warrior Training Center has ever conducted this course off site.
“This puts the Massachusetts National Guard on the map,” said Maj. Kenneth Wisniewski, sustainment and training branch chief, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Joint Force Headquarters, and a student in the course, “Never has the Warrior Training Center hosted an MTT (Mobile Training Team), normally you have to Fort Benning. This is the first state in the nation to get this course.”
When these Guardsmen from Massachusetts and Rhode Island graduate, they will be able to return to their units and train their fellow Soldiers in basics combatives.
“According to the Secretary of the Army,” explained Staff Sgt. Christopher Walton, one of two level 4 instructor trainers in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, “everyone needs to be level 1 certified. On Friday (Feb. 3, graduation day) we’ll have about 25 level 3’s and that’s a great base to start getting this program out to the troops.”
When this course began in January, there were 21 Soldiers; 20 graduated, one left the course due to injuries.
The class was a diverse mix of Soldiers; officers and enlisted, combat arms and non-combat arms and their fighting abilities ranged from minimal to a Massachusetts State Police Trooper, who teaches defensive tactics. Everyone trained as equals.
In the majority of the course, the Soldiers practiced their drills in the base gym on mats and in the corner where the walls were padded. Grunts, growls and the sound of bodies hitting the floor or driven into the walls was common. When it came time to full contact training (punching and kicking) approximately half a dozen students would take turns wearing heavily padded protective gear while engaging their fellow Soldiers. The protective gear is so heavily padded that blows to the head are not off limits.
This level of physical contact helps keep the training realistic.
“It incorporates what we’ve learned throughout the course and puts it into a tactical frame of mind and it’s what we’re going to use in battle,” said Cabral, “When you clear a room and you get hands on with an opponent, this is when combatives comes into play. That frame of mind should kick in, what am I going to do if this person becomes combative?”
The students were told that one of the course requirements was that every student needed to be in excellent physical shape.
“Very, very intense … all encompassing … it’s just great training!” said Staff Sgt. Earl Johnson, 101st Regional Training Institute, Camp Edwards and a Massachusetts State Trooper, “I don’t think you can grasp the physical and mental endurance of it. It’s not just physically taxing; there’s so much technique and so much information to absorb … it’s tough.”
It had been a long month for the Soldiers and for many graduation day was right before drill weekend; but many left eager to return to their units.
“I’m looking forward to teaching the combatives program,” said Cabral, “As early as tomorrow we’re starting off and getting this training out there and putting stuff on the ground.”