Pfc. Miles McDonald (left) comes out swinging at the 2011 Army National Guard Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning, Ga., in March. McDonald, of Ozark, took fourth place as a flyweight in his first-ever cage match. (Ann Keyes/Missouri National Guard)
By Ann Keyes
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Missouri National Guard combatives team placed in the top three at the 2011 Army National Guard Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning, Ga., in March, making a strong showing for the state's inaugural appearance at the fourth annual event.
"It's outstanding to come in third at Missouri's first competition," said team coach Maj. McDonald Brand, Jr., of Lebanon. "We won third place in large part because of an accumulation of points from consolation rounds. Our guys never gave up."
Not only did the team take third, the Citizen-Soldiers who made up the first Missouri Guard squad did it with half the number of combatants as other states. Missouri fielded seven team members while other states brought a slate of 14. State rankings come as a result of total points earned per team during the two-day competition.
"Next year we'll send a full team," said a proud State Command Sgt. Maj. James Schulte, who met the team at Fort Leonard Wood's Forney Airfield upon its return. Schulte shook hands with members of the squad, as did other sergeant majors greeting the group as they emerged from the Missouri Guard C-23 Sherpa that brought them home.
Schulte went on to give props to Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, the state's adjutant general, and to the Missouri Guard's Joint Chief of Staff, Col. Wendul G. Hagler, for promoting the state's first-ever combatives team.
Not only did the squad place high among all states at the national competition, individually, Missouri Soldiers did well. Pfc. Miles McDonald, of Ozark, took fourth place as a flyweight. Pfc. Dalton Toombs, of Marble Hill, took first place as a welterweight.
The two Missouri Soldiers moved ahead during the initial day of the double-elimination contest when nearly 100 Soldiers hit the mats for Army combatives, a combination of mixed martial arts that includes karate, sambo and jujitsu, said Show-Me State coach Staff Sgt. David Reyes, Jr.
The Army version of what is sometimes known as hand-to-hand combat also involves more traditional wrestling and boxing moves depending on the level combatants are fighting at.
McDonald and Toombs were among the top four fighters in their weight classes, moving on from the initial day of preliminary rounds when limited striking was allowed under standard and intermediate rules.
On the final day of competition, fighters battled at level three combatives, opening up the opportunity for full-on boxing in addition to techniques used during previous bouts.
The last 14 fights were cage matches, which was a first for McDonald.
"It was exciting, nerve-wracking and a lot of fun, McDonald said of the cage match, adding it was his goal to make it there. With no experience fighting, 19-year-old McDonald had only fought at level one combatives before training for the National Guard matches.
He said guidance from his coaches made a big difference, both during training and ringside prep.
"That and I just really wanted to win," McDonald said.
Toombs' battle was hard fought and hard won, with his opponent seemingly dominating the first few minutes of the match. But Toombs gained an advantage when the duo got back on their feet. Toombs then took his adversary to the mat before landing punch after punch to both head and body.
"I was waiting for him to tire out," Toombs said of his first minutes in the cage. "Once he was tired, that's when I made my move."
McDonald lost his bid for third place to a Soldier from Minnesota. Toombs beat a Soldier from that state to take first in his class. Minnesota also took first place in state rankings while Illinois took second.
Missouri Citizen-Soldiers who didn't make it to the cage not only added to overall state numbers, they gained valuable experience.
"I think you learn more from losing than from winning," said Spc. Gerald Miller, of Maryville, who won two matches before being eliminated. "When you lose you know everything you're doing wrong."
"It's a big accomplishment just to make it here," said Reyes of the Army Guard competition. "Once you get to this level, you are among the best in the nation."
Reyes also touts the "esprit de corps" of combatives competition as well as the value in knowing how to dominate an opponent.
"This really teaches a Soldier what a Soldier needs to do," Reyes said. "Whether deployed in operations or not it lets Soldiers know what they're capable of."
Schulte said combatives is very important as a core warrior skill, one that builds confidence for Soldiers.
"When you can grapple and engage with the enemy one-on-one, then you can take on anything," he said.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com and our social media sites:
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Missouri National Guard State Command Sgt. Maj. James Schulte (far right) meets the Show-Me State combatives team at Fort Leonard Wood's Forney Airfield upon its return from the 2011 Army National Guard Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning, Ga. Also on hand to greet the newly-minted third place finishers are five other sergeant majors. Front row kneeling from left: Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Maze, Jr., 35th Combat Aviation Brigade; Pfc. Isaac Krout, Company D, 1-135th Attack Reconnaissance; Pfc. Dalton Toombs, 1140th Engineer Battalion; Pfc. Miles McDonald, Company D, 1-138th Infantry Regiment; and Spc. Gerald Miller, 1-129th Field Artillery Battalion. Back row from left: Command Sgt. Maj. Will Pierce, Jr., 35th Engineer Brigade; Command Sgt. Maj. John Sportsman, 1-129th Field Artillery Regiment; team coach Maj. McDonald Brand, Jr., 70th Troop Command; Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Aegerter, 70th Troop command; Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dalman, Company D, 1-135th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion; Sgt. David Rusin, 1035th Maintenance Company; Spc. Jeremy Koerper, 1175th Military Police Company; Sgt. Maj. Larry Godsey, Special Troops Battalion; team coach Staff Sgt. David Reyes, Jr., of HHC, 35th Engineer Brigade; and Schulte. (Ann Keyes/Missouri National Guard)