Infantry: Street Fighting Men


May 5, 2009: Increasingly, the U.S. military is emphasizing street fighting as a neccessary combat technique. The U.S. Army and Marines even hold competitions, where troops can determine who is the best practitioner of "combatives" (as the military likes to call this amalgam of martial arts and brawling.)

Even the U.S. Air Force, after some 20,000 of its airmen served in Iraq, and were exposed to ground combat, decided to upgrade the combat training all airmen get. While the air force has its own force of security troops, who receive infantry training, Iraq demonstrated that the war could come to everyone. Not since Vietnam, have air force ground operations faced the threat of ground attack. While most air force warplanes operate from nearby nations, and not in Iraq itself, there are still plenty of airfields in Iraq and Afghanistan that have to be defended, and are always subject to terrorist attack. Such attacks have been rare, largely because the air force has, like the army, put a lot of effort into defending those bases.

Starting last year, in addition to more training with assault rifles and pistols, all airmen began taking a course in hand-to-hand combat. The Air Force Combatives program is a 20 hour version of the 40 hour U.S. Army Combatives Program. It basically teaches you the best moves to make if you are ever in a hand-to-hand combat situation. Airmen are encouraged to take additional training, after they have completed the mandatory 20 hours of instruction. Those who have served in Iraq, and especially those who came back with a combat badge, don't need much encouragement.

The army began its Combatives program seven years ago, and it proved so popular that it evolved into a competitive sport. Two years ago, the marines began requiring that everyone qualify for the lowest level belt (tan) of the martial arts program it began in 2001. That goal has proved more difficult than anticipated, but has got marines more focused on hand-to-hand combat.

The marine martial arts effort is also a program of well, street fighting. The Martial Arts Training Program is taught like most other martial arts, allowing for degrees of proficiency, and colored belts to indicate how far a marine has gone from tan (the lowest level) to grey, green, brown and black (the highest.) The marine program is notable for elements that accurately represent actual combat conditions. For example, before doing the actual combat fighting, trainers wear the marines out with vigorous physical exercise. In combat you are likely to encounter the enemy face to face only after a lot of running around. Another realism element is the random introduction into the training area of items that could be used as weapons (a knife, pipe, piece of lumber). These realism touches make the Marine Corps Martial Arts Training Program popular and effective.

The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has reinforced the importance of this program. So all marine infantry had to achieve the green belt by the end of 2008. All combat support marines have to get the grey belt by early 2009. The first (tan) belt only requires about 28 hours of training, but the others need more (from 47 to 72 hours for each level). And, you have to be in very good shape to even get started on the tan belt. But the skills obtained have proved to be lifesavers, especially in raids and search operations, where a nearby civilian often turns into an armed hostile on very short notice.





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