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COLUMN: Army comatives

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By Ken Begley

Combatives: A term popularized by the United States Army referring to hand-to-hand combat training. 

I’m getting old.

I first enlisted into the military in 1975.

Yep, I’ve seen a bunch during nine years of active duty and another 29 years of reserve time in both the Navy and the Army. The trouble is, as I near 55, I just can’t remember much of it anymore.

Oh well, lack of memory just lets me use my imagination more rather than rely on the tedious truth all the time. My philosophy is that truth is highly overrated when it comes to storytelling.

Anyway, I went to see the retention sergeant at my unit the other day and said, “I’m here to re-enlist.”

The retention sergeant looked up in stunned disbelief and said “Good gosh, Begley, don’t you ever plan on leaving? I see from your military records that Pontius Pilate was a corporal when they issued you your first spear.”

“Oh that’s just plain silly. He had retired a good 10 years before I joined and I wasn’t issued a spear. I worked on the catapults. Get your facts straight. By the way, will I get a bonus if I re-enlist?”

“Bonus? I don’t know. Let me look up on the chart under ‘worn out old bag-of-bones sergeants.’ Nope, nothing there. You want me to try the ‘cannon fodder’ category?”

You know what? There’s nothing I hate more than these snotty-nosed 40-year-old kids running things in the military now-a-days. They need more soldiers with a little experience behind them.

I signed the papers and then the retention sergeant said, “Hey old man are you ready for combatives today?”

“Combatives? What’s that? Sounds like a laxative. If it is, then give me two.”

“It ain’t no laxative! It’s the Army’s new program where you have to learn a little hand-to-hand combat.”

“Really? I always thought hand-to-hand combat was to have one finger on a trigger while I shoot at any unfriendly thing that has their finger on a trigger.”

Apparently I was wrong.

Shortly there after I was in the drill hall. 

Everyone was trying to pair up with someone about their own size. I surveyed the crowd looking for some docile creature that a worn out old bag-of-bones sergeant in the cannon fodder category could take down without too much trouble.

The instructors knew this would happen and promptly made the pairings themselves. It seemed to me that they made these pairing with evil intent, as each one was as unequal as you could get.

Take me for instance.  

I’m about 5’8” and 175 pounds of solid something or other. I was paired up with a sweaty 6’3” young 30-year-old captain weighing in at a beefy 250 pounds of rock hard muscles.

“You ever do this before?” I inquired with curiosity.

“I used to be on the army wresting team when I was on active duty and I also teach Judo as a part-time job,” he replied. “Do you know anything about hand-to-hand?”

“Sure.  If you have a pistol I’ll show you real quick before we get started.”

The instructor gave us about an hour of demonstrations. We were encouraged to practice what we learned for another hour.

I was to be attacker.

Well, I’ll tell you what. I didn’t get to stay in the military for 38 years by being afraid to try something new.

I gave my finest Ernest T. Bass hillbilly yell and leaped into the air at the young captain. Unfortunately, the young tend to be fleet-of-foot. He sidestepped me and I landed in a heap on the concrete floor.

He admired my failed performance and gave me encouragement by saying, “What the heck are you doing?”

Of course I had him scared now. I was sure all that laughing he was doing was just to cover up his fear now that he knew he was dealing with a determined foe.  

My carefully thought out plan was working well.  He laughed so hard he couldn’t stop and fell down on the floor.

I then jumped on him like a monkey all jacked up on Mountain Dew and went for the throat with both hands while yelling “you’re gonna die.”

I was giving him the thrashing of his life when he said, “Man, that feels good.  Do you think you can snap my neck like that again?  This is better than the chiropractor back home.”

This was not the intended response I expected when he suddenly said, “Now it’s my turn.”

He then flipped me in the air like a pancake and put his massive callused hands around my throat. My head began to rotate like a basketball attached to a slinky.  

I’m not sure what happened after that, as I believe I passed out. Some bystanders told me later that he got bored on the choking thing. This was followed by flipping me around in the air like a baton for a few minutes.  He ended this practice session by doing a full-body slam.

The retention sergeant, who was smacking my face, revived me.  

I looked around and there was no one there. “Hey, where’s that captain,” I slurred.

“They let him go home early. You had him scared to death..”

“Really?” I asked with sudden pride.

“Yeah, he thought he killed you.”

Things were easier in the old days on the catapults.