It takes an incredible amount of strength to fight on and off the battlefield, but for 1st Lt. Bryce Barnes, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), this is his reality while serving on the combatives team.
“It’s offensive in nature, you’re manipulating joints, you’re attempting to incapacitate someone through pain or breaking bones,” Barnes said. “Luckily, we’ve found a way to mimic it without hurting someone, where you can roll around and tap out. In war, there’s no tap outs, so we still train for it. It’s a hand-to-hand combat simulation.”
Barnes grew up in Virginia Beach, Viginia, as a wrestler. It wasn’t until he was a senior in high school when offers to wrestle in college started coming in that he began thinking about the military.
“I got recruited by West Point, but I turned them down at first,” Barnes said. “As the wrestling season went on, I started getting offers from other schools, and I started thinking more about West Point.”
Barnes said as he was making his decision, he began thinking about how he could serve others and the rest of the world.
“I committed to West Point and I wrestled all five years there,” Barnes said. “I had a year of prep school, their way of red-shirting me, and I completed four years there with a major in systems engineering with a focus in human factors.”
He finished a successful wrestling career at West Point, where he became the first wrestler in program history to be invited to the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic and became one of three wrestlers in program history to qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament four times.
Barnes was drawn to the 101st Airborne Division because of its storied history and has happily served in 1st BCT since graduating West Point in 2016. Barnes now competes in Army Combatives where he has become quite successful.
Barnes was presented the Army commendation medal, Jan. 21, for competing in the 2019 Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Combatives Invitational and winning the heavyweight division, going 4-0.
“I look at it as a team battle,” Barnes said. “It was really awesome to be recognized by my whole unit. Winning for me, was a whole cumulation of my entire unit coming behind me and supporting me the entire way. After I got the award, there were people in my unit I had never met before who were coming up to me and congratulating me, and that’s really nice. My unit has given me so much love and support the entire way.”
Barnes also was the combatives champion in the heavyweight division during Week of the Eagles 2019 competition.
“Combatives is the Army’s way of mimicking hand-to-hand combat in warfare,” Barnes said. “If you were to come into a situation with no ammo, no weapon to defend yourself, and you were being physically attacked by someone, this is the Army’s way to defend yourself.”
Barnes also has trained in the combative sports of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and boxing.
“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a lot of joint manipulation, it’s similar in some ways to wrestling,” Barnes said. “Boxing…if you get punched in the face, they say if you don’t know Jesus you’ll find him. Kickboxing is what I’m awful at. I love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it’s my favorite because it’s closest to wrestling.”
Despite its reputation, Barnes said violence does not play a large factor in practicing combatives.
“The funny thing about combatives is if you’re angry you’re not going to win,” Barnes said. “Blind anger gets you nowhere, because you exhaust yourself when you’re angry. This is mental and physical chess, if you come out angry and aggressive right away, you’re setting yourself up for failure once you’re exhausted.”
Barnes continually learns about the importance of patience and personal responsibility while fighting, he said.
“I’m more of a ‘here’s the idea and we’ll figure it out on the way’ person,” Barnes said. “This has taught me a lot about personal responsibility, if you lose, you’re the reason you lost, if you win, it’s because of you. You’re the only person out there, you’re the only one responsible for doing the right thing. So, it’s taught me patience, which is something I struggle with. I’ve learned a lot about the fruit of waiting, and you just have to wait sometimes.”
Reflecting on his career so far, Barnes feels pride in being able to compete and fight for the Army in a different way, and how his fighting has contributed to his faith. Barnes also is devoted to his church, Grace Community Church, where he volunteers his time and leads a small group of other adults in weekly Bible study.
“If the Army wants me to fight, put me in, let me fight,” Barnes said. “It all bleeds together. My faith, my career in the Army and combatives. My fighting and my faith go hand-in-hand, there are things we have to fight against and fight for every day. To give up is not an option, you don’t always win, and it’s the same for the Army, too.”