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NEWS | Aug. 7, 2012

Joint National Guard, Air Force Reserve team takes Gold Medal in NATO competition

By Army 1st Sgt. D. Keith Johnson 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

HOEVELTE, Denmark - A few more Gold medals are coming home to the U.S., but they won't all be from the Olympics in London.

The Team U.S.A Military Men's Team won Gold Medals in the Novice category at the NATO Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers' Military Skills Competition held here. Thirty-five three-person teams from 14 countries participated. Out of 6000 possible points, the U.S.A team edged out the Silver Medal winners by 8.7 points.

Pennsylvania Air National Guard Staff Sgts. Matthew Stern and Mark Jones along with Air Force Reserve Maj. Brendon Ritz comprised the Novice Team.

Ritz, is an operations officer with the Pacific Command J3, Jones, is an Infantry squad leader with Company B, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment and Stern, is a recruiter with the Pennsylvania National Guard Recruiting Command.

For Ritz, it was about one thing. "Before we got here, our coaches thought we had a chance, but once we got here, it was about just doing your best. As Novices, we just wanted to come out here and not make mistakes."

It was a very close meet, as explained by Jones.

"The competition really displayed a metaphor for life in that everything that you do, matters. We won only by a few points, which we figured roughly to be equivalent to 20 seconds in orienteering, half of a hand grenade toss, or one good round on the range. That's how close this battle for the gold was!"

Also, a U.S. female competitor won a Gold Medal in the International category. When a country brings more competitors than can form a three-person team, they are put into a pool and teams are created. The U.S. Team had two females put into that situation when a third U.S. female was unable to attend. Four International teams consisting of two males and one female were created.

Washington, D.C., National Guard Capt. Leala McCollum was a member of an International Team that won the Gold Medal for that category. McCollum broke a toe midway through and had to be replaced by another alternate, but her shooting and Combat Casualty Care scores were enough to help her team win the Gold. McCollum, from Arlington, Va., is a medevac pilot with the 121st Medical Company - Air Ambulance.

McCollum, Airman 1st Class Ziven Drake, and the two other females on the International teams were given Sportsmanship Awards from the Danish delegation. The teams changed right before the competition started, and they adapted and competed. Drake, is an F-16 crew chief with the 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard.

The CIOR competition consists of a pentathlon with rifle and pistol marksmanship, land and water obstacle courses and a 10-15 kilometer orienteering course, as well as Combat Casualty Care, and a written Laws of Armed Conflict test. Team and individual medals are given for each event as well as overall.

One of the positives from the competition, something not able to be tabulated on a score card is the relationships developed with military members from other countries.

"The purpose of CIOR is to strengthen the alliance and build our partnerships with our NATO allies," said U.S. Navy Reserve Cmdr. Grant Staats. "More than medaling, representing the U.S.A as leaders and professionals in this Partnership Program is what we aim to do. Achieving these goals will bring the strong finishes to us, every time."

Staats is the commanding officer for the Joint Reserve Unit, Special Operations Command – Joint Capabilities, and has been involved with the U.S. Team since 1995, as a competitor for 12 years and officer in charge for the last five years.

Staats had high praise for his team.

"Success and failure are elements of life. Our competitors experienced both this year. But, each and every one of them displayed strong character, unending will, clear perspective, and a deep sense of honor," he said. "Our partnering nations regularly approached me with compliments about the quite professionals we had on our team this year. I am extremely proud of the men and women we took to Denmark for the 2012 CIOR MilComp."

The competitors also had kind words for the partnering nations.

"The competing countries were amazing," said Jones. "Their amazing and sincere, admirable sportsmanship is something we should all strive for in life and is what this competition is all about."