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Army suspends combatives, competitions

Mar. 19, 2013 - 07:14AM   |  
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Spc. Larry Jackson, III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas, ties up with teammate 1st Lt. David Mason in a championship bout July 23 at Fort Hood. Mason defended his bantamweight title by defeating Jackson by unanimous decision. Combatives competitions may meet the chopping block due to budget restraints.
Spc. Larry Jackson, III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas, ties up with teammate 1st Lt. David Mason in a championship bout July 23 at Fort Hood. Mason defended his bantamweight title by defeating Jackson by unanimous decision. Combatives competitions may meet the chopping block due to budget restraints. (Daniel Cernero / Army)
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Annual competitions pitting soldiers against one another to crown the next best Ranger or drill sergeant or warrior or hand-to-hand fighter have been scaled back or postponed in light of the Army’s budget crisis.

The command most affected appears to be Training and Doctrine Command, which holds numerous competitions each year.

“TRADOC has postponed all competitive events internal to TRADOC or hosted by TRADOC for the Army,” said Col. Christian Kubik, spokesman for the command.

The directive is outlined in an operations order issued Feb. 8, Kubik said.

TRADOC units that want to hold an event must receive an exception to policy from the deputy commanding general of TRADOC.

As of March 15, TRADOC was reviewing requests for exception for the Drill Sergeant of the Year and Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions, Kubik said.

The two events, combined, were estimated to cost about $9,000 this year, said Ray Harp, also a TRADOC spokesman.

Events that are safe, so far, include the Best Ranger competition, which likely is the command’s highest-profile competition.

The Best Ranger competition is scheduled for April 12-14, said Gary Jones, a spokesman for Fort Benning, Ga., where the competition takes place every year.

This year’s competition will have reduced aviation support and fewer live ammunition events, Jones said. The Ranger Training Brigade, which organizes the competition, also will forgo the annual maintenance of the facilities used during the competition, Jones said.

In the past, the brigade scheduled its annual maintenance right before the competition “to ensure we put our best foot forward … when we host this premier event,” Jones said.

Also still scheduled are competitions and events that feed into an Army-wide event, such as the Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competitions, and events that have international attendance or participation from the other services, Harp said.

The Army-level Best Warrior competition, which takes place in October and features the Soldier and NCO of the Year winners from organizations across the Army, is still scheduled but has been scaled down to three days, said Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman.

Last year’s event lasted four days. The 2011 competition was five days, he said.

The competition is “under review, and we are moving forward as if it will occur,” Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler said in a statement.

Forces Command holds Soldier of the Year and NCO of the Year competitions each year, usually in mid-July, said Paul Boyce, a spokesman for FORSCOM.

About 18 soldiers, representing various FORSCOM units, compete each year, and the event usually takes place at a FORSCOM installation such as Fort Hood, Texas, or Fort Bragg, N.C.

FORSCOM has severely curtailed travel, but no decision has been made about the Soldier and NCO of the Year events, Boyce said.

“We’ve been focused on the more immediate situation,” he said. “We’ll certainly look at that as we get closer to the date.”

In a January budget-related memo to the force, Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno did not specifically address competitions. But they called for all training and training events that are not related to maintaining readiness for deployment to Afghanistan or South Korea or for the division ready brigade to be curtailed.

In addition to the Drill Sergeant and Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions, the TRADOC operations order relating to competitions dealt a blow to combatives enthusiasts at TRADOC units.

In jeopardy is the all-Army Combatives Tournament, which was scheduled for late summer at Fort Carson, Colo.

The event is run by the Fort Benning-based combatives school, which is a TRADOC organization.

In addition, unit-level combatives competitions in all TRADOC units are postponed unless the unit requests and receives an exception to policy, Kubik said.

Units that are not in TRADOC will operate under guidance from their commands, Kubik added.

“Fiscal uncertainty guidelines apply across the Army, and units should direct questions about the competitions to their higher headquarters,” Kubik said.

Combatives training, however, will continue as scheduled, within fiscal uncertainty guidelines, Kubik said.

“Competition drives the training in combatives,” said Kris Perkins, director of the combatives program at Fort Hood. The team from Fort Hood has won the all-Army combatives tournament three years in a row.

Most of the soldiers he works with start training because they want to win their unit competitions and work their way up to the post and Army-level tournaments, Perkins said.

“They come in and train, they become more fit, they become tougher and more resilient,” he said. “It’s a good thing.”

Combatives training and the accompanying competitions are important as the Army works to grow warriors, Perkins said.

“Every unit in the Army, down to every squad, knows who their fastest runner is,” he said. “But if you ask them ‘who’s the best fighter?’ or ‘who’s the best shooter?’ They won’t know. So what are you training to do?”

Kubik denied complaints from soldiers that TRADOC was banning combatives tournaments because of the nature of the training, and revising the combatives Training Circular, TC 3.25.150, to remove the portions that outline how tournaments and competitions should be conducted.

TRADOC “sees significant value in the combatives program,” Kubik said.

The training includes “hard and arduous physical training that is, at the same time, also mentally demanding and carries over to other military pursuits,” he said.

It also contributes to enhancing individual and unit fitness and strength, instills in soldiers courage, self-discipline and esprit de corps, and saves lives on the battlefield, Kubik said.

The review of the training circular, which began in March, is part of TRADOC’s review of all Army doctrine.

“The entire TC is being reviewed and rewritten to reflect feedback from the field, the most current warrior tasks and battle drills, ” Kubik said. “This review will ensure a sustainable program that enhances the ability of our soldiers to win on the battlefield.”

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