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Officer Training School basic trainee Amy Natalini performs self-defense techniques on Officer Training School basic trainee Lori Granger during the school's inaugural Air Force Combative Program training Jan. 29. OTS trainees will continue the 11-hour unarmed combat skills training as part of more than 70 hours of expeditionary skills training mandated by the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in the fall of 2006.

Officer Training School basic trainee Amy Natalini performs self-defense techniques on Officer Training School basic trainee Lori Granger during the school's inaugural Air Force Combative Program training Jan. 29. OTS trainees will continue the 11-hour unarmed combat skills training as part of more than 70 hours of expeditionary skills training mandated by the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in the fall of 2006. (Jason Lake / Courtesy to Stripes)

Officer Training School basic trainee Amy Natalini performs self-defense techniques on Officer Training School basic trainee Lori Granger during the school's inaugural Air Force Combative Program training Jan. 29. OTS trainees will continue the 11-hour unarmed combat skills training as part of more than 70 hours of expeditionary skills training mandated by the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in the fall of 2006.

Officer Training School basic trainee Amy Natalini performs self-defense techniques on Officer Training School basic trainee Lori Granger during the school's inaugural Air Force Combative Program training Jan. 29. OTS trainees will continue the 11-hour unarmed combat skills training as part of more than 70 hours of expeditionary skills training mandated by the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in the fall of 2006. (Jason Lake / Courtesy to Stripes)

Staff Sgt. Nicole Humphrey, 22nd Training Squadron instructor, demonstrates self-defense techniques on Officer Training School basic trainee Amy Natalini during the school's inaugural Air Force Combative Program training Jan. 29. The AFCP is comprised of three training modules. The first module focuses on ground fighting and basic jujitsu-style grappling moves while the second and third modules are specialized courses for certain career fields such as tactical air controllers and combat controllers.

Staff Sgt. Nicole Humphrey, 22nd Training Squadron instructor, demonstrates self-defense techniques on Officer Training School basic trainee Amy Natalini during the school's inaugural Air Force Combative Program training Jan. 29. The AFCP is comprised of three training modules. The first module focuses on ground fighting and basic jujitsu-style grappling moves while the second and third modules are specialized courses for certain career fields such as tactical air controllers and combat controllers. (Jason Lake / Courtesy to Stripes)

Tech. Sgt. Amy Kearney, 22nd Training Squadron training instructor gives officer trainees basic instruction in hand-to-hand combat on Jan. 29 at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Tech. Sgt. Amy Kearney, 22nd Training Squadron training instructor gives officer trainees basic instruction in hand-to-hand combat on Jan. 29 at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. (Scott Moorman / Courtesy to Stripes)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force doesn’t fight up-close and personal, or so the theory goes.

When an airman mixes it up, he’s sitting at a computer, or from 10,000 feet, with the flick of the thumb on a pickle stick that signals the release of a 500-pound laser-guided missile.

So it was a landmark moment for the Air Force on Tuesday at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., when a group of some 70 officer candidates spent two hours sweating, grunting and grappling with one another in hand-to-hand combat.

The officers- in-training are the first to be trained in the Air Force’s new “combatives” ground combat course, the first standardized hand-to-hand combat instruction ever intended for the entire Air Force corps.

Eventually the entire force is supposed to get the training, and it will continue throughout airmen’s careers, although the details of when and how that will be done have yet to be sorted out, according to officials at the Air Force Education and Training Command at Maxwell.

The Air Force Combatives curriculum is a shortened version of the Modern Army Combatives Program, that service’s 40-hour mandatory training program, according to Capt. George Hemingway, a flight commander with the 24th Training Squadron who oversees the program at Maxwell.

The Air Force program includes two, 10-hour modules: a “familiarization” module that focuses on ground combat; and a more advanced series that includes fighting from a standing position.

The first 10 hours teach students how to cope once they are down, Hemingway said, because “that’s where most fights go, to the ground.”

“Most people are fairly comfortable fighting on their feet. They know how to throw a punch, or at least run away,” Hemingway said. “What they don’t know is what to do once they’re down.”

The very first skill a student must master is one that forces him into a position most people consider utterly vulnerable — on his back, with an opponent sitting on top of him.

It’s called “escaping the mount,” and Hemingway likened the move to foiling “a bully on the playground who is sitting on your chest and punching you in the face.”

Students quickly learn that they can, in fact, get out of that fix — even when their opponent is much bigger.

Learning that an enemy’s own weight and strength can be used against him is a key confidence-builder, according to Staff Sgt. Veronica Rooks, a physical conditioning instructor and one of two women teaching the course at Officer Training School.

For Rooks, who is 6 feet tall but “a beanpole,” discovering she could physically overcome men like Hemingway, who outweighs her by 100 pounds, “really gave me confidence.”

“I only wanted to (practice) against other females” when first learning the combatives techniques, she said.

That changed, she said, “Once I got the skills.”


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