Bringing fire to the ring

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Armando A. Schwier-Morales
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
From the beginning of their careers, Airmen are taught to be the "sword and shield" of the nation. How they achieve that state varies from Airman to Airman.

Tech. Sgt. Stephen Pina took to the ring.

Before he gets in the eight sided ring at night, he trains to fight aircraft, structural and vehicle fires as a firefighter for McConnell's 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron.

As an Airman, he is required to be ready at a moment's notice and know what to do in any situation.

However, reaching the "Sword and Shield" through one fight wasn't enough. While deployed with the U.S. Marines he developed a love and respect for hand-to-hand combat.

"I took MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) and enjoyed it," said Pina. "From then on, it's been through my own ambition and motivation to do this for myself."

Mixed Martial Arts, like firefighting, is known for having a variety of specialties that a fighter must master in order to compete at a higher level. Since his move to McConnell, Pina spends hours honing his specialty, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, at a local gym.

"Stephen very quickly became part of the family," said Marcio Navarro, Laselva MMA instructor. "He is a great training partner. Whether it is his turn to represent the gym himself, or if he is just helping a training partner prepare for their next match, he is very selfless and humble in his approach. He is very teachable and respectful. Those are great qualities to have in a student."

Not just a pupil, Pina's leadership Air Force describes him as an Airman who fosters a culture of excellence and develops the next generation of leaders.

"Pina is required to have an above average fitness level and that reemphasizes to our people the importance of fitness," said Charles Hutson, 22nd CES fire chief. "Our duties are demanding on the body, and he is a big mentor to the young kids to become more fit. I like seeing the young guys trying to outperform him -- It's a challenge for them."

Pina learned of the many MMA competitions while developing his skills. There is one annual tournament, the U.S. Armed Forces Mixed Martial Arts Championship that gathers the best fighters from all military services.

"Once I found out about the all branches ... it was time to represent for the Air Force," said Pina.

The competition uses a modified form of MMA with no strikes to the head.

In Pina's words, "We all have a job to get back to."

Pina entered a tournament dominated by Marines who on average take over 85 percent of the medals. Yet, even in these conditions Pina stood out by being the only Airman to place in the top three by taking second place in his weight class during the 2012 tournament.

"Stephen is a well-rounded fighter," said Navarro. "If the fight stays standing, he is quick and explosive with his striking. If the fight goes to the ground, he has a very strong understanding of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and can quickly end the fight with a submission."

All services where represented at the tournament and while other branches have a sanctioned MMA program, such as the Marines Mixed Martial Arts Program, Pina believes the Air Force is behind the curve. However, he is hoping to change that by developing the next generation of leaders.

"I am hoping next year we can bring a team to the tournament from McConnell," said Pina. "To represent and showcase our sword and shield spirit."

Pina has one year to train and hone his warrior Airmen skills, but until he competes again he will be ready to protect and fight the fires facing Team McConnell.