FORT HOOD, Texas – As he walked onto the mat before his match in the 2013 Fort Hood Combatives Tournament, Army Sgt. Maj. Bradley Cope began the prefight dance that tells his body and mind to prepare to do battle. He lightly bounced up and down on his feet and shook his arms out, signaling to his muscles that it was time to go to work.
It’s a dance he has been doing for a long time.
Cope is the provost sergeant for 1st Cavalry Division’s Operations Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, and has participated in competitive sports since he was 10. The 49-year-old Rapid City, S.D., native grew up playing football, baseball and wrestling.
The 25-year Army veteran said he competes in combatives to satisfy his desire to compete, his desire to constantly better himself, and to continue to keep his body fit despite competing against other fighters who usually are half his age.
Some might think Cope is crazy to compete at his age, he acknowledged, but he said he has a fire to compete and he doesn’t think he’s old.
“Age is just a number,” he said. “At first, I questioned myself and wondered if I should compete. A couple of years ago, I sat on the bench and watched the tournament and really wished that I had competed. I don’t ever want to say that again. If I’m going to compete, I’m going to compete. I’m not going to sit on the bench and say, ‘I should have.’
“To get better, you have to fight the best, and I’m glad I’m here at Fort Hood to experience the best,” he continued. “The coaches at the fight house are just awesome. They pushed me to compete. I’m glad they did -- I enjoy it.”
Despite his competitive nature, Cope is not above sharing the wisdom he has garnered over the years.
Army Pvt. David Duke, assigned to 1st Cavalry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade Combat Team, sparred with the sergeant major in the weeks leading up to the combatives tournament. In a twist of fate, Duke was Cope’s second opponent. Cope is 27 years older than Duke.
“We’ve been rolling at least two to three times a week for the past month now,” the 22-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., native said. “He’s a little bit older, but he’s still got it. He’s got a love for competition, and he taught me a bunch of moves. I actually used some of the moves he taught me to win today.”
Jarrod Clontz, combatives instructor at Kieschnick Physical Fitness Center here, said he encouraged Cope to compete because he noticed something different about the sergeant major that made him think he could win.
“I’m kind of an old guy, and I still compete actively, so I can see a lot myself in Sergeant Major Cope,” he said. “We are like kindred spirits. There’s still plenty of fight left in that guy. That’s what allows him to go out and compete against these young guys. He has a never-say-die attitude.”
Clontz added that he understands the drive it takes to fight at Cope’s age, because more preparation is necessary for someone who is older to be able to compete against the younger, stronger fighters.
“The older you get, the harder you have to work to compete at this level with these guys,” he said. “The younger guys might train two to three days a week, but guys our age have to train five to six just to keep up. We also have to give ourselves more rest, because it takes longer to heal. It takes a lot of dedication and work for us older guys to win.”
Cope finished the tournament with two wins and two losses, which eliminated him from contention, but don’t count him out from competing in next year’s tournament.
“I’m not ready to ride off into the sunset yet, but I’m aware of which way the horse is facing,” Cope said. “I love being around the folks in the Army, and I’m going to miss it, but I’m not done yet.”
Although he didn’t win the tournament, Cope has won the respect of his fellow competitors and his instructors for doing what few people his age and rank would do.
“You could tell he had a deep fire within,” Clontz said. “He never quits. I took a liking to him right away. It’s great to see leadership out there leading the way like he does. Not everyone does that. There are not a lot of guys at his rank that would get on the mat and lead the way by example.”