Soldiering on in the snow

By Sgt. 1st Class Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Capt. Josh Daugherty with the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment leads the Kentucky Biathlon Team up a hill during the patrol race portion of the 2019 Chief, National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vt., Feb. 28, 2019. The team skied nearly 45 km in various races during the five-day competition. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Scott Raymond)

JERICHO, Vt. – For the fifth straight year, Kentucky Guardsmen competed against the best winter sports athletes in the National Guard. The four-man team skied against more than 130 competitors from 18 states in the Chief, National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vt., Feb. 23-28.

Kentuckians are normally not used to snow skis, or so much snow, but the team is proud of how far they have come in a short five years.

“Biathlon is one of the hardest things I have ever done,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joel Ray Campbell with the 41st Civil Support Team, who’s been with the team since 2015. “We’re still learning, but we have come such a long way as a team and have really improved as biathletes.”

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Five challenging days of competition kept the team busy improving their skiing, tightening up their shot groups and preparing themselves for the rigors of the competition. All while battling sub-zero temperatures and gusty, wintry winds.

The biathlon competition included a 10 km sprint race, a 12.5 km pursuit race, a 7.5 km relay race and finally a 15 km patrol race. Overall, the skiers put in roughly 45 km of racing through the snow trails of the Green Mountains.

After placing in the regional competition a month earlier, the Kentuckians were denied top spots on the national leader boards. Each team member agrees the learning curve remains steep, but they maintain their motivation to keep trying and prepare for next year.

“I see such an improvement in this team, just since last year,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Bottom with the 138th Field Artillery Brigade, in his third year on skis. “We try to stay focused on steady improvement and with all the help we get from other states, I’m confident we can be a consistently competitive team each time out.”

Those other teams are always ready and willing to help teach and guide the novice teams. The biathlon community is tightly knit and it is taking them all working together to grow the sport, rally more interest and keep states returning to competitions.

“It is great seeing teams like Kentucky come back every year. A victory for them is not to medal, but to just get better each year,” said Staff Sgt. Erik Burmeister with the Rhode Island National Guard. “In National Guard biathlon, it’s all about having the heart to keep coming back and suffering through these races. The Kentucky team may have the most heart of them all.”

The ability to move on skis, shoot under pressure and work as a team are common threads in the Army profession. Camp Ethan Allen sits in the same mountains that are the setting for the Army Mountain Warfare School, so while biathlon is a sport, it takes on extra meaning for the Soldiers that ski through the area. These attributes place a significant relevance to the sport in the eyes of senior leadership.

“This sport builds ‘shoot, move and communicate’ ideals,” said Capt. Matthew Hefner, coordinator for National Guard Biathlon. “Biathlon is an incredibly aerobic sport that requires a lot of skill and dedication to be good at. Athletes are physically fit, they can shoot well, and that improves the readiness and lethality of these Soldiers and the force.”

Training for the Kentucky team has been difficult without consistent snow in the commonwealth. Summer skate skis and year-round shooting with the biathlon rifles are always on the training agenda when the team members can fit in into their regular schedule. Capt. Josh Daugherty with the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment has seen the benefits of biathlon training in a variety of ways.

“I could go on and on with the benefits of training for and competing in biathlons,” he said. “The physical gains of biathlon training make the APFT a breeze. It’s a full body workout. We are reminded of attention to detail as we wax our skis, evaluating weather and the effects on equipment, personal accountability and coordination to get the team packed, to the event and to compete in each event.”

“In a lot of ways, doing biathlon is making me a better Soldier.”

Expanded workout regimes and dedication to the team and the sport, along with some marksmanship, are the building blocks for Kentucky’s biathlon team. As they departed Vermont, the discussion for 2020 had already begun. They understand to find success, you have to keep showing up.

“Everything we’ve put into this is paying off for us, I really believe that,” said Campbell. “We are improving competitively, we’re a crowd favorite at competitions and we are always excited for the next race.”

***If you are interested in information on the biathlon team, contact Sgt. 1st Class Eric Shackelford at james.e.shackelford10.mil@mail.mil.

The Kentucky National Guard Biathlon Team is just one of many opportunities available to Guardsmen. Other options include the Marathon Team and the International Military Exchange Program. Contact your chain of command for more information.***