FORT BENNING, Ga. – Six of 14 Illinois Army National Guard Combatives Team soldiers placed in three separate weight classes, taking second place overall in the 4th annual 2011 Army National Guard Combatives Championship Finals at the Hector Santiago Fitness Center on Fort Benning, Ga., March 19 and 20.
More than 100 soldiers from 15 states competed to prove battle readiness in mixed martial arts. The fighters were broken down into seven weight classes, ranging from flyweight at 125 pounds and under to heavyweight at 205 pounds and up.
“Illinois is definitely a stand-out state that competes to win,” said Sgt. Joe Sult of Corvallis, Ore., a Warrior Training Center senior combatives instructor. “The team’s talent, good coaching, and warrior ethos justifies their continued success.”
The Modern Army Combatives Program consists of various fighting styles including Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Freestyle wrestling, and Muay Thai kickboxing. Depending on a fighter’s strength in a particular style, the opponent may have to use a different fighting style to overcome their opponent’s advantage whether standing or on the ground.
If soldiers find themselves unarmed during an imminent enemy encounter, close-quarters combatives are pivotal skills to stay alive in combat. The purpose of the competition is to establish the best military fighters. It also draws a crowd, which soldiers use as motivation to keep training.
Six minute, double-elimination opening rounds were fought using standard combatives rules, where the objective is to win by opponent submission through chokes or joint manipulation. There is also a point system where each opponent scores points based on the number of dominant fighting positions they obtain during the match. If a fighter does not submit, the points will determine the winner.
Progressive tournament style moves winners of the previous standard round to the 10-minute-long pankration round, where fighters increase the variety of attack methods with additional open-hand slaps to the face, closed-hand strikes to the body and kicks anywhere head to toe. Eleven of the 14 Illinois Guard fighters progressed from round one (standard) to round two (pankration) without being eliminated.
In the consolation round, Illinois Guardsman Staff Sgt. Nicholas Grant of Caseyville, with the 129th Regional Training Institute in Springfield, placed third with a win by submission against Arizona Guardsman Staff Sgt. David Stefl from Company B, 1-285th Attack Helicopter Battalion in Phoenix.
Illinois Guardsman Staff Sgt. Adam Therriault of Ottawa, with Company A, 33rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion in Marseilles took second place in the final round.
The four finalists competing for first place in both cruiserweight and light heavyweight classes were all Illinois Guardsmen. Of the four, Sgt. Aoutneil Magny of Dolton, with the 708th Medical Company in North Riverside had to challenge Sgt. Aaron West of Braidwood, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Urbana.
“Challenging a fellow soldier on my team isn’t easy, but I look at it as a training opportunity,” said Magny. “I focus on the challenge of it, so I can become a better fighter.”
Magny took first place in the cruiserweight division with West in second. In the light heavyweight division, Illinois Guardsman 2nd Lt. Ivan Yochkolovski of River Grove, with Company A, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment in Bartonville, took first place over fellow Illinois Guardsman Sgt Jeremy Stimac of Braidwood, a member of the Company A, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment.
“These soldiers train year round and nonstop,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Vincent Cruz, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Warrior Training Center Combatives Program. “There’s no way I can express how much these guys go through and they never quit.”
The major sacrifice National Guard soldiers make to compete is their time and money. Active Duty soldiers have the conveniences of local training facilities on post and training time during their work schedules. National Guardsmen put time aside from their daily schedules and money from their own pockets to train year round. They train by attending outside civilian combatives schools requiring long commutes at times.
“Unlike active duty, we as guardsmen are required to train as a team and individuals,” said Maj. Jeffary Jiannoni of Petersburg, the Illinois Army National Guard combatives coach. “We can’t train daily on a single installation together, so we rely on civilian training and schools and then we bring that training together when we meet at the tournament. We make every effort to get together to train even if it’s on our own income, because we love what we do.”
The Illinois Army National Guard Combatives Team is a tight-knit family of soldiers dedicated to the same passion. They have proven themselves in their fourth All National Guard Tournament and look forward to competing at the next All Army Tournament, said Jiannoni.
“These guys will actually go to compete in the All Army tournament,” said Cruz, “The active duty fighters will be sorely mistaken to take this Illinois National Guard Team for granted.”