FORT HOOD, Texas —One soldier found his "perfect fit" for the Army during basic combat training just more than four years ago.
"I got interested in combatives (the Army’s version of martial arts) in basic training," said Crestview native Staff Sgt. Matthew McKeon Sr. The infantryman is assigned to the 2nd Lancer Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Ironhorse Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "I used to fight before I joined the Army, so in basic training, when combatives was introduced to me, I was like, 'Wow, this is what I did before I joined the Army,' so it kind of fit perfect together."
Although McKeon, 26, didn't start wrestling until he was in high school, he said he did well with just three years’ experience. He won many tournaments, and as a Crestview High School wrestling team member, he worked his way to the state tournament.
Joining the Army
After graduating from high school, McKeon still had the drive to compete in wrestling, leading him to join a local gym that offered a mixed martial arts program.
"I got my feet wet in MMA and did pretty good," he said. "But I realized it wasn't going to pay the bills, so I joined the Army."
McKeon was introduced to combatives during basic training. After learning the technique, he earned first place in his training unit’s mini combatives tournament.
McKeon’s passion for the sport lives on more than four years later. Now stationed here with the Lancer Battalion, he has competed in multiple postwide combatives tournaments. He never won —until the Feb. 20-23 Fort Hood Combatives Tournament, in which McKeon placed first in the cruiserweight category.
"After the fight, I was smiling from ear to ear. I couldn't stop it because it just felt like there was a lot of weight that was lifted off my shoulders," McKeon said.
Goal: win four in a row
Hoping to earn a spot on the Fort Hood Combatives Team and compete in the All-Army Tournament this summer, McKeon joined Ironhorse's combatives team.
"McKeon contributed overall leadership with his experience as a noncommissioned officer as well as a fighter," Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel O'Brien said. O'Brien is a senior noncommissioned officer of the 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Ironhorse Brigade and Ironhorse combatives coach. "He was able to assist in coaching the team with his experience in combatives."
O’Brien said that McKeon's recreational involvement with fighting helped with the rest of the team.
The Fort Hood Combatives Team used last month’s tournament to choose recruits for the All-Army Combatives Tournament.
"I was on the Fort Hood team in 2011 and we won the championship," McKeon said. "I was deployed for the (2012 competition) where they won again, so my goal is to help them win four in a row."
McKeon said he couldn’t have been successful without the support and encouragement of those closest to him.
"I love my wife, son and parents, and want to thank them for supporting me through all this," he said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without you."
Sgt. Bailey Kramer is with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Calvary Division, U.S. Army.