An Anacoco soldier participates in combatives training with Team Highlander of Headquarters Support Company, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Thud! The sound a strike makes when it's delivered to the body reverberates throughout the room as onlookers' faces wince in empathetic pain for the punished.?It's followed by the barely audible grunt from the soldier on the ground, giving the striker mild satisfaction. They're both exhausted at this point. His name is Bond, Sgt. Jeremiah Bond, and he is beating the life-giving oxygen out of his fellow soldier – this is good.?The sights, sounds and smells of sweating soldiers grappling, punching and kicking each other are the status quo for combatives training with Team Highlander of Headquarters Support Company, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.?"If you let your opponent strike you across the chin, you're going to go from [high definition] to black and white. It doesn't matter if it's an open-palmed slap," said Sgt. Sherman McCaskey, a radio communications security repairer and combatives instructor/team leader for HSC, 615th ASB.?McCaskey addressed his six-man team during a lull in training, his voice fused with cool, calm confidence.?"Humans are just like other animals that can smell fear or see it in its prey's eyes. You have to be confident," said the Thomasville native as he paced the mat.?McCaskey, along with Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Landis, the battalion motor pool sergeant for 615th ASB, has been training his team for a month now; ever since he received an email informing him of a combatives tournament hosted by the 10th Sustainment Brigade on Camp Taji.?"The team is looking real good. Actually, in a month's time, they've learned a lot," said McCaskey, a level three certified combatives instructor.
Both McCaskey and Landis feel their team is ready for Aug. 29.
Bond, a novice competitor from Anacoco and a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic for HSC, 615th ASB, is excited, albeit a bit anxious, at the prospect of coming out victorious in his first tournament.?"I feel like I'm going to be pretty good at it. I've learned quite a lot; Sgt. McCaskey is a good instructor," said Bond. "I'm nervous because it's the first tournament I've ever been in. It's going to be an experience and I'm going to enjoy it."?Bond, a welterweight who will strike his opponent mercilessly, prefers taking his fights to the ground.?"I've learned quite a bit of submissions. I like being on the ground better than standing up and (McCaskey) has taught me a lot of stuff on the ground," said Bond.?"The team is going to do really well. I see a lot of confidence in the team, a lot of good training, a lot of good movements; they'll do well," said Landis.?This type of confidence is contagious within the room where soldiers walk in with faces of stern determination and limp out with smiles of accomplishment.?They tend to their bruised bodies, but with a heightened sense of readiness for both the upcoming tournament and anything the world throws at them.
 "I'm kind of a hard trainer and I yell a lot because I want them to succeed and I want to win – I like to win," said McCaskey with a grin.?Although there has been an intense train-up for the tournament, McCaskey and Landis ordinarily teach combatives to the entire 1st Air Cav. Bde. every day at 5 p.m.?"What we're pushing for, as far as training, is that we want to get everyone in the unit level-one certified," said Landis, a Graham, Wash., native.?There are four levels of certification within the Army's combatives program, each building on the other; with the most significant difference being that levels three and four enable the instructors to certify skill levels one and two, said McCaskey.?But being able to toss an opponent physically is not the only benefit to the combatives program, said McCaskey.?"As a soldier in the United States Army, we're always going to be in some sort of fight," he said. You've got to have that willingness to be able to go into combat to accomplish the mission – combatives instills that."?Landis, who will be competing in the tournament, is a level-two certified soldier who's been practicing Jiu-Jitsu and Muy-Thai kickboxing on and off for about 12 years.?Although two opponents go into the ring with the intentions of hurting each other, they come out with a different outlook – win or lose, he said.?"You can never have hard feelings when you go in there. You have to go into it with a humble point of view," said Landis. "You have to know going in there knowing that (the) guy you're engaging in some kind of combat ... is actually going to be your friend in the end."?