TAIPALSAARI, Finland - Three Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, competed in the Finnish Sniper Championship HÄYHÄ 2023.
Sgt. Gavin Asbury and Staff Sgts. Matthew Dawson and Joshua Johnson made up one of 26 teams to participate in the Aug. 25-27 competition, which focused on basic sniper skills.
The Finnish Sniper Guild organized the event in cooperation with the Finnish Reserve Sports Association and the National Defense Training Association.
The three-day event consisted of 26 stages of shooting and tasks to test all aspects of sniper craft.
Task events included land navigation, Tactical Combat Casualty Care, selecting a firing position, minefield negotiation, call for fire and signals protocol.
Most of the events were shooting events. Moving targets and low-light environments provided basic marksmanship challenges. Teams also had to show proficiency in shooting from a moving platform, counter-sniping, long-range shooting and shooting with an unfamiliar weapon.
The Red Dragon team finished 19th out of 26 teams, while another U.S. Army team from the 10th Mountain Division placed 11th.
“I believe our team was uniquely positioned to do well for this competition, at least in the ways of team cohesion,” said Johnson. “Two members of the team attended U.S. Army Sniper School in Arkansas together in 2017 and have worked together ever since. The third member was groomed and chosen by the current snipers already in the section. All three snipers were able to expand upon their skill on a recent deployment to the Horn of Africa. Each sniper was pushed to a different country between Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti. These three different experiences coming together allowed the team to have different vantage points of their craft and apply them to the competition.”
Despite their experience, the VNG team did encounter some challenges competing in a foreign country.
“One of the most difficult things about the competition was how we translated some of the rules of the lanes we competed in,” Johnson explained. “Our team had a collective of over 30 years of experience in the United States military. This gave us a predisposition to interpret some of the rules in more of an American military fashion, meaning less than more nuance and ambiguity. The competition was intentionally made this way, and some of the damage had already been done. We scored few points if any in these lanes. Looking back at it, having more of an open mind and taking our time would have allowed us to see the forest for the trees and potentially given us a better position.”
Still, Johnson said the competition was a terrific experience.
“The entire trip was a blast and a great exposure to the culture,” Johnson said. “I am eager to either visit on my own time or compete in the competition in the future. I am extremely proud of my team. I feel that we capitalized on our strengths. We used ingenuity, creativeness and experience to get us through the three days.“
The Virginia National Guard enjoys an enduring relationship with Finland, including military training exchanges between Finnish Defense Forces and VNG Soldiers and Airmen.
Finnish troops served with Virginia’s 29th Infantry Division during the Stabilization Force 10 rotation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2001-2002. VNG personnel have trained with their Finnish counterparts for many years, building professional and personal bonds.
In recent years, Soldiers and Airmen conducted cyber training with their Finnish counterparts and learned from Finland’s expertise operating in Arctic conditions. VNG Army and Air cyber warriors also participated in Finland's Elements of Cyber exercise.
Finland and the United States share a commitment to peace and stability. Security cooperation has broadened over almost 30 years.