While most Reserve Soldiers by age 53 are nearing retirement and are seeking less physically intense and demanding activities in their roles, one particular noncommissioned officer from Carmel, Indiana, is willingly volunteering for some of the army’s most physically demanding courses.
Sergeant First Class Brian Wignall, a Senior Drill Sergeant assigned to 1-330th, 1st Brigade, 95th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) recently completed the Basic and Tactical Combatives Courses in March 2019.
The purpose of the Modern Army Combatives Program is to enhance a Soldier’s combat readiness by building Soldiers’ personal courage, confidence, and resiliency as well as their situational responsiveness to close quarters threats in the operational environment. According to the U.S. Army Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, MACP started in 1995 with the 2nd Ranger Battalion and has since been incorporated throughout the Army with portions being introduced to Soldiers in the Basic Combat Training course during their Initial Entry Training.
Wignall enlisted in the Army in 1984 and became a drill sergeant in 1989.
When asked why he volunteered to attend the combatives program, Wignall stated, “I wanted to become competent in combatives in order to help me train Soldiers more effectively.”
“When I originally became a drill sergeant, we were still teaching trainees hand-to-hand combat and bayonet training,” said Wignall, explaining the evolution of training since he first completed drill sergeant school.
Both the Basic and Tactical Combatives Courses are physically demanding courses that require a lot of endurance and muscular strength. The basic course is a grueling five-day agenda full of introductory level wrestling, grappling, and boxing. The tactical course is two weeks long and builds upon the fundamentals learned in the basic course while introducing ground fighting chain attacks, vehicle extractions, and close quarter fighting in kit while room clearing.
Though the combatives courses are open to anyone at any point during their career, it is typical that they are taken earlier in one’s career. The average age is 23 years old, meanwhile Wignall completed both classes back-to-back at the age of 53, making him the oldest Soldier to graduate the courses.
“What are you doing here old man,” Sergeant First Class Stephen Martin jokingly says as he approaches the new class of basic combatives trainees, in particular Wignall, doing perfect forward rolls as a part of his warm-up drill.
Martin was one of the instructors during Wignall’s MACP training. Martin has been an instructor of MACP for over 12 years. He was formerly a Special Operations Combatives Program instructor for 10th Special Forces Group and a United States Army Combatives School instructor at Fort Benning, the main hub for the Combatives Program for the Army. Martin is now the Combatives Director at the Fort Carson Combatives Center in Colorado where Wignall attended training.
“While in class, I volunteered to get choked into unconsciousness, I was probably punched in the face 40 times, I bruised three ribs, tore the tendons in my left hand, and broke my left foot,” explains Wignall of the challenges he faced during his training.
A culminating event during the basic course is a competition between all the trainees that allows them the opportunity to showcase the skills they have learned during the week. Despite how terrifying Wignall’s account may sound to most, especially considering this is a voluntary course, he said he had more fun at this course than anything else he had done in the army, with the exception of jumping out of airplanes—of course. Wignall is also an army paratrooper who volunteered to jump out of perfectly good planes.
Martin recalls pulling Wignall to the side at one point during training, and although he had injured ribs, he was all smiles. Martin stated that Wignall was one of the most motivated Soldiers who has attended the course since he has been an instructor. Martin had just turned 40 himself a couple months prior and openly admitted that most 40 year olds had nothing on Wignall.
Wignall is now a legend in the fight house. Since graduating Wignall, Martin says he has had younger Soldiers come through and complain that they are too “old” for all this. He proudly reminds them, “I just had a 53 year old grandfather complete the course.”
Martin spoke very highly of Wignall when asked about his time as his instructor. Martin says he typically sees about 12 Reserve Soldiers every year out of the approximately 1,000 Soldiers that come through the fight house. Martin described Wignall as physically fit and determined. Martin said he was impressed by the Reserve Soldier’s spirit, because there is a bit of complacency that sets in with active duty Soldiers. However, Reserve Soldiers come to the course and give their all because they typically only have two weeks to give it all they’ve got. Martin explained that through Wignall’s successful completion of the basic and tactical course, Wignall is now able to teach others the basics and techniques at the company level.
Wignall says he is excited to take this new skill back to his battalion where he hopes to be able to train his fellow drill sergeants in the techniques and eventually certify other Soldiers. In order to be able to certify Soldiers, Wignall will have to attend the final phase, Master Combatives Course. Wignall has already expressed interest in attending that course next year.
Wignall admits that the combatives program was more intense than he was anticipating, but he would do the whole class again because of how much fun it was. This is not the only physically demanding course Wignall is pursuing. He is also pursuing becoming a Master Fitness Trainer. Master Fitness prepares leaders to be advisors of physical readiness and allows them to monitor unit and individual physical readiness programs. Wignall has completed phase one of the Master Fitness Course and also hopes to attend the second phase of Master Fitness training within the next year.
In his civilian career, Wignall works as a real estate broker and property investor. When not at work, he enjoys spending time with his wife, their six children and one grandson. Wignall’s oldest child, 2LT Israel Wignall, is also a Soldier who is currently serving as a Signal Officer in the Indiana Army National Guard.