Who said Citizen Soldiers were not on Par with the Regular Army?
Try telling the members of the Minnesota National Guards Combatives Fight team that they are just National Guard and shouldn’t be mixing it up with the Active Duty Fighters. The extremely humble team from the land of 1000 lakes was able to hold open Try out in on May 19th and field a team of 16 fighters which was the only full National Guard Team with 2 competitors in all 8 weight classes of Bantamweight, Flyweight, Lightweight, Middleweight, Cruiserweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight . To get one of these slots even those that had competed in the All Guard Combatives Tournament had to fight again for their chance to represent the Minnesota National Guard. After their victorious return from the All Guard Tournament MG Rick Nash The Adjudant General for the state of Minnesota received the fighters and presented coins for excellence and reminded the warriors about his top priorities and why they actually fight and train. As one of the teams top advocates they were able to secure funding for the fighters and to help be a beacon of light for the other Guard forces to continue to strive to be the best despite perceived handicaps.
This is not your traditional fight team though, being Guardsmen they of course have jobs and civilian responsibilities that have to be met and this seems more of a hobby to out side eyes. There is no “Fight House” that the guard incubate their talent in and break the glass of when competition and duty calls. No, there are no nutritionist or strength and conditioning coach just motivated warriors living up to the ethos that want to be the best they can be. This team met primarily for the first time after the open tryouts at the Airport on Tuesday the 24th of July as they headed to Fort Hood Texas to compete.
Where was the high speed active chain of command and resources to ensure these fighters were on track with weight and were ready to face the teams of Fort Hood, Fort Stewart, 5th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, Fort Lewis and the rest of the Army’s compliment of hard core deployable forces? This team leans on each other and experience to help them bridge the gap between Active service and Civilian life to keep the spear tip sharp. The Red Bull Brigade has a long and storied reputation for being tough as woodpecker lips and always being battle ready. From their extensive involvement in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom the country has always been able to count on the professionalism and leadership of this outstanding unit. Several of the members of this team just returned from active service in Kuwait and several others are prepping to deploy to Afghanistan in the near future yet they have been able to find time to do what it takes to rise above the rest. Part of the team’s success rides on the shoulders of the members ability to motivate each other from a distance. The coach 1LT Malmberg, OIC CPT Eitenmiller and NCOIC SSG Martell along with SFC Carlson do their best to maintain close content with the team members and among the team itself they support the command structure with per leadership. Captain Matt Jukkala was identified as the teams most inspirational member and not because of rank but his ability and tireless keeping up with members to ensure that he can support them as needed. When we asked him about this he simply stated the Coach, OIC and NCOIC do the communicating I just try to keep engaged in dialogue about technique, training and practices but clearly his humble approach endears him far more than he realizes. Captain Jukkala is a Project Manager for Caterpillar and another fine example of the juxtaposition that our Citizen Soldiers face from wearing a tie and then have to don ACU’s and leave a corporate setting for a combat setting. It’s this focus and “Finding priority in real battle tasks” that SSG Martell stated are what keep the Guard Members able to shift between foreign and domestic issues seamlessly.
The team is a typical National Guard cross section of demographics with both rank structures well represented. It’s this cross section and experience that have kept them competitive, with 4 college wrestlers and a couple of high school wrestlers like SPC Kemper who placed second in State competition Greco Roman at 130lbs who also holds only the Modern Army Combatives Level I training getting a chance to represent his state again this time with the skills that help stabilize and protect not just physically defeat.
The Team going into the Final day of competition found themselves in the top five sitting in fourth place but with the potential to have the first National Guard All Army Champion. SPC Sean Stebbins from Anoka, Minnesota , returned from deployment to Kuwait and returned to the tournament to redeem a loss two years ago. SPC Stebbins a 13F (Forward Observor) fought his way through half the Bantam Weight Division with relative ease to face SFC Jonathan Mejil (Fort Sill) in the Final. SPC Stebbins like the other members of the team had to monitor his own weight cut and conditioning. Leaning on his team mates and the Academy at Brooklyn Center he was able to arrive in Fort Hood ready for action and without needing to cut weight other than some dietary adjustments and water control. This personal discipline with in the team was crucial as upon the teams arrival they found no where to train after hours making those needing to cut weight in a precarious position and needing to demonstrate that Guard ingenuity to overcome adversity and find the answers within the community.
As it would end the Minnesota National Guard team claimed 6th position following the second place finish of SPC Sean Stebbins in the Bantamweight final. SPC Stebbins had some solid exchanges but found himself on the ground with a very skilled opponent and was submitted by an arm bar in the opening round. This loss however still was eclipsed by the over all effort and fellowship of the team. Just as SPC Stebbins was preparing for the final event he had a family member in Minnesota in the hospital and the team worked together to get him the flights home immediately following the match. The professionalism and dedication of the Non-Commissioned Officers and the Commission Officers once again shined through showing the Active component the value of the National Guard Members. Captain Jukkala always forward in the foxhole discussed how the day to day basis of the guard soldier must be disciplined and ready led to the teams success as the mentality of this always ready team over came weight issues and arrived amazingly conditioned and ready. The only teams to best the Minnesota National Guard team were 5th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, Fort Stewart and the winning team Fort Hood with their third consecutive victory. Those teams host the most elite fighters in our nations armed forces, members of the World Class Athlete Program and professional fighters so for a small select group of Citizen Soldiers to compete and earn their respect is the ultimate statement of our National Guard’s strength and community value.
As members of the team 1LT Malmberg and CPT Jakkula impressed the value of the teams accomplishment on the members after hearing the event crowd cheer for the humble team from Minnesota they identified the strength and advantage of the National Guard being more than a unit but having the pride of a state and being able to represent more than themselves or a unit that will continue to lead them to much grater levels of success in the future and most likely will have the first National Guard All Army Champion in their ranks.