By Army Staff Sgt. Jacob Parker
4th Sustainment Brigade
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq (6/21/11) – While deployed, Soldiers often find new hobbies to occupy their time when they are not on a mission or busy with training. Some play instruments, others read and many play video games.
For some Montana National Guard Soldiers from 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 163rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, sparring with padded swords has become the newest unique hobby.
Army Sgt. John Oglesby, a gunner with Alpha Co., 1st CAB, brought his hobby of sparring, or “ditching” with him to Iraq and has since gained several new members to his group of swordsmen.
Their battles take place in a large hole across from their living area and has been dubbed “the Pit.” The lower elevation of the pit, with its raised viewing area, gives spectators the sense of watching gladiators in an arena.
The foam-padded weapons in the bright sun of the Iraq desert have a shine to them resembling polished steel, although without the metallic ring of metal to metal contact when struck against each other.
Oglesby has been sparring for more than 25 years with two international organizations dedicated to recreating the arts of the renaissance and the Middle Ages.
“I am almost 50,” Oglesby said. “I don’t think I’ll ever quit doing this. It’s a good stress reliever and it’s an awesome exercise.”
Oglesby and the other participating Soldiers start their matches with a round-robin warm-up, in which the winner of each duel remains to fight the next.
Following the end of their warm-up, Soldiers are already sweating profusely. They then move into a two-on-two battle. Teammates stand side by side, using cooperation in order to not expose their battle buddies as they fight and move around the pit.
Oglesby usually has four to six people that join him in the pit for battle.
“I like history and medieval stuff just fascinates me,” said Army Spc. Brandon Thronson, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle driver. “It makes the time go by faster.”
As stories have spread by word-of-mouth, other members of their unit have expressed interest in joining the group and becoming swordsmen to pass the time.
“My advice to skeptics is, don’t knock it until you try it,” Oglesby said.