Warfare was once a matter decided by which side had the most swords, best steel, or most modern tactics.
As war fighting has steadily evolved over the centuries from throngs of sword wielders and catapults to laser guided missiles and cyber capabilities, the most important asset has always been the quality of the Soldier.
Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division say their Army Combatives and Advanced Tactics program is essential in building a more complete, well rounded, and resilient Soldier.
“In my opinion, combatives not only builds the overall warrior, but more importantly establishes the foundation for who we are as Soldiers and paratroopers,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Yurk, the noncommissioned officer in charge at the 82nd Airborne Division’s U.S. Army Combatives and Advanced Tactics program. “We put Soldiers into extremely uncomfortable positions; give them the tools, and then the opportunity to drive on to their objective.”
Command teams around Fort Bragg have seen how the program builds the Soldier’s individual confidence and contributes to overall readiness.
“I have absolutely seen it,” said Capt. Clay Langdon, currently serving as a medical logistics planning officer with the 82nd Abn. Div.
Langdon recalls when he was commanding the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 528th Sustainment Brigade; he saw the change in his administrative clerk after sending her through the training.
“I sent one of my personnel clerks to the Level 1 course. She was a very mild-mannered, quiet, unassertive (specialist),” said Langdon. “After going through the course, you could see how she walked taller. After participating, she went from this timid and unassuming specialist, to a Soldier who was getting after it.”
Langdon recognized more than the change in her demeanor.
“It carried over to her work at the company,” said Langdon. “She had that confidence that comes with knowing I can rely on myself.”
The course Langdon’s Soldier attended is a 40-hour block of basic combatives instruction where Soldiers are immersed in close quarters combat. Soldiers are taught basic grappling, techniques for protecting their weapon in a struggle and how to close the distance and gain control of their opponent in order to finish the fight.
In the 80-hour, Level 2 Tactical Combatives course, Soldiers learn advanced techniques and focus on scenario based tactical training.
Currently, Levels 3 (Basic Instructor) and 4 (Tactical Instructor) are both 160-hour courses and expand the learning into unit-level applications and develop master trainers who can weave combatives training into other unit-level training events.
“Each level is designed to feed the next and ultimately develop today’s Soldiers into trainers and leaders,” said Yurk.
Today’s generation of Soldiers face unique challenges that come with regular deployments, extended separations from Family, and the realities of warfare.
Yurk and Langdon both believe the combatives program provides Soldiers the opportunity to compete in a high-octane, reality-based scenario. They have seen how this training can mitigate issues that Soldiers face while simultaneously providing them with an indispensible skill set.
“We should be able to take any Soldier here at Fort Bragg and expect them to be able to successfully engage a 250 meter target with their rifle; they learn that skill in basic training,” said Yurk. A Soldier would need specialized training and range time before they are expected to accurately engage targets beyond 250 meters. Combatives and advanced tactics is responsible for the instruction on the threat right in front of the Soldier, he said.
Yurk likes to point out to the Soldiers who are preparing for his course that every Soldier has challenges to overcome and obstacles to conquer.
“What makes the U.S. Soldier unique is our ability to recognize our individual inner strength and willingness to make the conscience choice to face fear without backing down,” said Yurk. Every Soldier who goes through the course has the opportunity to face that fear and overcome it.
More than 2,100 Soldiers and paratroopers have graduated from the 82nd Combatives and Advanced Tactics program in the past year.
The overall program is tailored to assist the unit and the unit command teams to achieve the 82nd Airborne Division’s strategic objectives, to include being a ready and resilient force.
As the division positions itself as the nation’s global response force, the combatives program constructs scenario-based, realistic training where Soldiers may need to employ a hand-to-hand combat skill set.
They train not only on the mats, but also in the field where realistic training can begin to more closely mirror combat situations.
“Our Advanced Tactical Course has the ability to meet any mission intent and any unit commander’s goals,” said Yurk. “We train Soldiers here at Fort Bragg in all environments.”
The three-day ATC is unique to the 82nd Abn. Div. and provides the command teams the ability to exercise platoon-sized elements in a variety of realistic scenarios. The advanced instruction focuses on clearing rooms of potential threats, safely transitioning from weapons systems to hand-to-hand engagement, as well as how to recognize the need to employ lethal and non-lethal tactics.
Today’s modern Soldier often finds him or herself in situations where employing their primary weapon is not a suitable option. For example, civilian crowd control during a humanitarian relief mission or when providing peace and security operations surrounding an election.
The training acquired in the advanced tactics courses can assist in preventing situations from escalating, create time and space for additional support and ultimately prevent unnecessary casualties, said Yurk.
“The willingness and ability to close with and engage the enemy is a powerful part of who we are as Soldiers today that transcends all warriors throughout time,” said Yurk.