Pacific soldiers mix it up in Army fight tourney

Staff Sgt. Eric Steele, right, referee and tournament organizer, gives prefight instructions to a competitor.


By VINCE LITTLE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 8, 2008

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — This day of fighting certainly wasn’t for the faint of heart.

Thirty-one soldiers showed off an array of takedowns, choke holds and submission moves Saturday during the Army Combatives Tournament at the Yano Fitness Center. Sweaty and spent afterward, many walked away red-faced, or brandishing shiners, a result of open-palm slaps to the head.

Competitors were mostly men and based in mainland Japan. However, the field also included two women — who went up against the men — and an aspiring 19-year-old light heavyweight from Torii Station who scrambled just to make it to the event.

Spc. John Milos of the 349th Signal Company, 58th Signal Battalion, Okinawa’s lone representative, arrived at Camp Zama around 11:30 p.m. Friday night. He said the trip was arranged just a few days ago with the aid of his first sergeant, Thomas White. After being granted a four-day pass, fellow unit members chipped in to pay for a commercial flight to Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

"They really wanted me to come up here," Milos said.

With the Zama Lodge fully booked and unable to land a barracks room, Staff Sgt. Eric Steele, the tournament organizer, let Milos crash at his place.

"I went to bed, got up, took a shower and came here. No breakfast, no nothing. Just determination," Milos said moments after capturing first place in the light heavyweight division. "I did whatever I could to win. … I really want this for myself."

He was among champions from seven weight classifications Saturday. All will now represent U.S. Army Japan in the Fifth Annual Army Combatives Invitational at Fort Benning, Ga., scheduled for Oct. 3-5.

The Modern Army Combatives Program, or MACP, was created in 1995 by Army Rangers to teach hand-to-hand combat. Based on a style of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other fighting techniques, it has since spread throughout the Army. There are four levels involved in training.

Saturday’s format was double-elimination and consisted of two rounds: standard and intermediate. The tournament’s first level featured grappling only but then progressed into striking as soldiers advanced in the brackets and matches went from five minutes to 10 in duration.

Soldiers battled each other in Army combat uniforms and bare feet. Mouth guards, kneepads and groin protectors were worn in the intermediate round.

Sgt. Annette Storey, 23, of the 35th Combat Sustainment and Support Battalion, won an exhibition bout Saturday against Spc. Rebekah Queen of USARJ. The mother of an 18-month-old boy, she went on to fight three matches against men in the lightweight division.

"It’s really tough," she said. "Most of the time, they’re stronger than you anyway. They use their power and muscle you around."

Queen, 28, said she dabbled in martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu about a decade ago but had never been in an Army combatives tournament and isn’t "even Level 1" with her training. One of only two entries in the Flyweight Division, she faced Staff Sgt. David Allen for the championship. He quickly delivered a series of strikes to her face to claim the title, but Queen showed grit.

"It sucked, but it wasn’t too bad," she said of the barrage. "Usually I’m very, very intimidated with things like this. I did a lot of praying, and really wanted to do this. I wasn’t scared.

Staff Sgt. Randy Martinez of the 78th Signal Battalion breezed to the cruiserweight championship, taking full advantage of the Golden Gloves boxing background he gained growing up in Texas. He’s been involved with Army combatives since 2002 and serves as his unit’s instructor.

But it marked the first time he’d entered a tournament.

"When they said striking was allowed, I’m all for it," Martinez said. "[But] you have to train constantly for this. Even on weekends, watch what you eat and put into your body. If you’re not in shape, you find out the hard way — out there in front of everybody."

The only other Army combatives tournament at Zama took place in May and was held for Commander’s Cup points, Steele said. Organizers plan to stage one every six months and perhaps invite the Navy, Marines and Air Force to take part in an interservice battle.

Milos, who earned a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 2004, said he wants to become the Army combatives instructor for his unit on Okinawa after the Fort Benning invitational.

About an hour after defeating Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Miller to earn a spot in that tournament, he was among those sporting a small black eye.

"That guy hit hard," Milos said of Miller. "If you don’t have heart in this sport, you won’t make it. It’s not like football when you get tackled. When you get hit, you feel your brain jolt. It hurts. Everything goes fuzzy at first.

"You’ve got to be on top of your game all the time. If you put in 99 percent, that 1 percent can screw you up."

Top tournament conpetitors

A look at the top finishers by weight classification in Saturday’s Army Combatives Tournament at Camp Zama, Japan. Winners advance to the Fifth Annual Army Combatives Invitational at Fort Benning, Ga., scheduled for Oct. 3-5:

1. Staff Sgt. David Allen
2. Spc. Rebekah Queen
(only two entries in division)

1. Sgt. Marcus Lyons
2. Staff Sgt. Tyrone Ramsey
3. Sgt. Annette Storey
(only three entries in division)

1. Sgt. Joseph Ink
2. Spc. Derrick Yabut
3. Cpl. Taylor Jones

1. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dale Bell
2. Pfc. Stephen Jackson
3. Staff Sgt. Derrick Marble

1. Staff Sgt. Randy Martinez
2. Spc. Michael Gorge
3. Warrant Officer 1 Anthony Richardson

Light Heavyweight
1. Spc. John Milos
2. Sgt. Eliseo Rivera
3. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Miller

1. Sgt. 1st Class James Habig
2. Sgt. 1st Class Clarence Parham
3. Sgt. 1st Class Almondo Markham

Sgt. 1st Class Clarence Parham, top, takes the advantage over Sgt. 1st Class Almondo Markham in their battle for second place in the heavyweight classification. Parham went on to the win by judges' decision.

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