CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan – A crowd gathers as wrestling mats are laid down, while competitors sign themselves in at the judge’s table and begin their warm-up routine.
Two competitors step on to a mat, equipped with nothing but marital arts knowledge and hopes of winning pride and bragging rights for their unit.
One would expect such a scene in a gym or sports arena, but this competition took place under a glaring sun on well-worn wrestling mats in a motor transportation vehicle lot. Spartan living conditions and the draining heat couldn’t stop Marines of Combat Logistics Battalion 1 from competing in a ground-fighting tournament here, March 3 and 10.
The tournament is part of a series of sporting events held by CLB-1 to promote healthy competition, boost morale between its companies and break the monotony of the daily grind during their seven-month deployment to southern Helmand province.
“Marines always train to fight,” said and Staff Sgt. Javier Acosta, a section leader with Charlie Company, 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion currently attached to CLB-1, and 35-year-old native of Santa Clarita, Calif. “It’s good to get out on the mats and use our Marine Corps Martial Arts skills that we practice on our off time.”
Marines competed for individual titles in four weight classes: 164 pounds and below, 165-179 pounds, 180-199 pounds and 200 pounds and above. The battalion’s companies also competed for a team trophy, with each victory by an individual Marine added points toward a company’s overall standing.
“We’ve done one event every two weeks,” said Staff Sgt. Edward Mertz, a communications chief with Charlie Company, 3rd AABn., and 30-year-old native of San Antonio, Texas. “We’ve done football, soccer and volleyball…our future events are going to include a strongman competition and guide iron relay.”
“A lot of the Marines in the companies get to mingle with each other [during the events],” said Mertz. “Most of the time, the companies don’t get to interact because usually at least one company is on the road.”
“[The competition] helps the camaraderie between the companies,” explained Mertz. “It’s a friendly competition, but no one likes to lose. Everyone cheered on for their company and it turned out to be a good time.”
The skill level in the pool of competitors ranged from novices who began pursuing martial arts in the Marine Corps, to experts who have competed in professional martial arts circuits. In addition to MCMAP competitors brought various styles of martial arts to the tournament such as Greco-roman wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
“It was a good time,” said Cpl. Bercharis McGill, a radio operator with Headquarters and service Co., CLB-1 and 22-year-old native of Oakland, Calif. “I came out to show the other Marines what you can achieve in your off time if you really have the drive for it.”
McGill took 1st place in the tournament’s 200-pound weight class. He trains and competes in martial arts tournaments in California during his off-duty time.
Regardless of their skill level, each Marine brought his game face to the mat. Win or lose, Marines congratulated each other for their efforts, and discussed strategies to improve their performance throughout the remainder of the tournament.
“I’ve been a black belt instructor for almost eight years,” said Mertz. “I’ve known some of the Marines since they were PFCs [private first class] and I’ve been training them since then…to see them grow as Marines and come out here and see what they’ve learned over the years is definitely a great experience.”
With the competition behind them and boost in their spirits, the Marines look forward to their next sporting event as they move closer the end of their deployment.
Editor’s note: Combat Logistics Battalion 1, Marine Logistics Group 1 (Forward), is currently operating in direct support of Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.