News: Minnesota National Guard takes top honors at combatives tournament
Story by 1st Lt. Michael Thompson
FORT BENNING, Ga. – The Georgia Army National Guard Warrior Training Center hosted the 5th annual National Guard Combatives Tournament with more than 145 Guardsmen traveling from 18 different states and 2 territories to compete.
The top contender again this year was team Minnesota who had six fighters in the championship finals and two in the consolation finals to finish first overall with 465 points. Team Missouri was second with 281 points. In third place, with 244 points, was Team Guam, who should also have won an award for most miles traveled.”
“Every year these tournaments get harder,” said 1st Lt. Chad Malmberg, Minnesota National Guard combatives coach. “You take guys that are not necessarily professional fighters or guys that don’t have a whole lot of experience, but these are Soldiers, who take that mentality that they bring to the battlefield, and they are bringing the warrior ethos into the cage.”
The combatives tournament consisted of standard grappling rounds, intermediate rounds with some striking, and the championship rounds with full kick and fist striking.
Numerous teams found a way to make training through their own gyms, monthly team meetings, and resourced travel to the competition.
“The toughest battle was just getting here,” said Master Sgt. Allen Blend, Guam National Guard combatives coach. “But the guys persevered, and overall we have placed first, second, and third place, so they have done real good.”
When Pfc. Aaron Johnson, Indiana Army National Guard, heard of the combatives tournament from a training buddy, he knew he had to attend. Throughout his life, Johnson has competed in nearly every type of fighting tournament, to include wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, jui-jitsu, and mixed martial arts leagues. The National Guard Combatives Tournament was just another opportunity for Johnson to put his skills to the test, and he ended up winning the lightweight class against Spc. Thomas, Pfeiffer Washington Army National Guard.
“It’s pretty crazy putting grappling, pancrase, and then the final fight the last day,” said Johnson. “It is definitely wear and tear on your body.”
Even though teams were competing against each other, Johnson did not have a ring-side coach and had to enlist a couple of team coaches for help. Maj. Andrew Heymann, Georgia Army National Guard, coached for Johnson in the intermediate round, and for the finals Johnson got the help of Guam National Guard coaches Master Sgt. Allen Blend and Spc. Kenji Okiyama.
One of the few females to compete in the tournament was Staff Sgt. Kailey Carlson, Minnesota National Guard, who had to battle it out in a 3-person round robin for featherweight starting in the intermediate round.
“I started doing jui-jitsu about two years ago and then moved to train at the Academy with Greg Nelson,” said Carlson. “I almost primarily train with guys, but almost never usually someone my own size, so it was a nice experience to fight against guys who were closer to my weight.”
Spc. Miles McDonald, Missouri Army National Guard, wrapped up featherweight with a rear chokehold submission against Sgt. Terry Hams, Alaska Army National Guard, in the final championship rounds.
The most congested weight class was cruiserweight, 185 pounds, with 24 Guardsmen competing for the title. Even with his head bandaged, Cpt. Matthew Jukkala, Minnesota Army National Guard, took cruiserweight by submission against Cadet John Moser, Guam Army National Guard.
Hammer fist technical knockouts closed out the light heavyweight division for champion Staff Sgt. Brian Friedrichs and heavyweight champion Sgt. 1st Class Braden Simonet, both from team Minnesota.
“Overall it’s a great tournament, and the numbers are growing,” said Blend. “So it’s just a matter of time before it kicks off to the next level, thanks to the Warrior Training Center putting this together.”