News: NCO finds match in Army combatives
Story by Spc. Elayseah Woodard-Hinton
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - For many soldiers reporting to B Battery, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment for the first time, it’s a rite of passage to face one’s peers in hand-to-hand combat.
And Avenger team chief Sgt. Jacob Skeels was no exception.
“The combatives challenge is our way of welcoming new soldiers to the unit,” said Sgt. 1st Class Trent Trafford, Skeels’ platoon sergeant. “We have a lot of older soldiers who have deployed and they feel it’s important to teach the new soldiers hand-to-hand combat if they ever get in that situation. Not only does this help them build knowledge, this is a way for them to gain confidence and build camaraderie.”
The Modern Army Combatives Program training began in the late 1990s. It draws heavily on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques popularized in mixed martial arts tournaments, and is often taught informally to Soldiers at a very basic level during initial entry training and during unit physical training sessions. Soldiers who want to expand their knowledge in this area can also receive certifications up to level four.
For Skeels, who had no combatives experience prior to entering the unit, the combatives challenge was more than a welcome to the unit. It turned out to be something he was uniquely suited for.
Skeels previous experience on the Southridge High School wrestling team, along with his natural talent and willingness to take on each challenge, proved the Kennewick, Wash., native to be a worthy opponent and leader.
“High school wrestling is more technical and demands a lot more body control than combatives, but they are more similar than they are different,” said Skeels. “Both rely on body position and having the ability to transition from one position to the next.”
Skeels exceeded the expectations of his peers and leaders by defeating most of his opponents when he first joined the unit in 2009.
Because of his early success, combined with encouragement and support from leaders and peers, Skeels worked hard to master the chokes, holds and submission moves that characterize the Army’s signature fighting style. Eventually he earned his level-two certification, qualifying him to teach the techniques to his fellow soldiers during his platoon’s weekly combatives sessions.
“He’s very skillful and technical in combatives and a very well rounded teacher when it comes to it as well,” said Trafford.
Standing at 6-feet-2-inches with a fighting weight that ranges between 225-235 pounds, Skeels is classified as a heavyweight fighter in the world of Modern Army Combatives. Despite his build, and passion for a sport that requires one to dominate his opponent, Skeels demonstrates characteristics that are contrary to his appearance.
“He does not get upset too often,” said Trafford, about Skeels. “He’s humble and quiet. He’s definitely a leader in a quiet and professional way.”
Eventually Skeels, was asked to join his unit’s combatives team, which would provide him an opportunity to show his expertise against people outside of his unit. He agreed to join the group of 21 soldiers from 5-5 ADA and 17th Fires Brigade who shared an interest in competing in Joint Base Lewis McChord’s combatives competition.
To prepare for the event, the team took on a demanding schedule, which called for training as much as four hours a day, five days a week on MAC basics, kickboxing and submission wrestling.
Along with the rigorous training schedule and physical challenges, Skeels found he’d have to face additional obstacles outside of the ring. As a team chief, Skeels is responsible for five Soldiers. Fortunately he had people in his corner to help him while he trained for the competition.
“Juggling work and being on a team takes a lot of time management,” said Skeels. “I relied heavily on one of my team leaders, Spc. [Johnpatrick] Francisco, to help with the Soldiers while I was away for training and he did a phenomenal job. The other non-commissioned officers from my platoon helped as well, which made things easier on me and allowed me to focus on training.”
His eagerness to learn combined with the long hours of training proved to be beneficial for Skeels in the long run. After two days of physically grueling matches during the JBLM tournament, Skeels moved forward into the finals.
In spite of the hard work and talent that propelled him forward, in a blink of an eye, Skeels was defeated by unforeseen circumstances. During the first round of his match he injured his knee and had to forfeit the fight.
Despite his unexpected injury, Skeels remains positive. His easy-going attitude continues to shine through in speaking about his overall experience of competing in the tournament.
“It was good fighting guys from other units,” said Skeels. “When you fight the same people over again you learn their strengths and weaknesses. Competing on the team was challenging and fun.”
His optimistic outlook has even carried over to co-workers who remain supportive in his efforts.
“I wasn’t surprised he made it that far,” said Francisco. “If he didn’t get hurt I think he would have won.”
As Skeels awaits his MRI results, he looks toward the future. He said he hopes for a speedy recovery and looks forward to possibly competing in the All Army combatives tournament next year, where he will be able to test his skills against the best combatives soldiers from throughout the service.
“I enjoy combatives because of its emphasis on the individual,” said Skeels. “It challenges you in more ways than just physical and mental, sometimes it comes down to which fighter has the most heart.”