ARLINGTON, Va. – A team from the Army National Guard took second place in this year’s U.S. Army International Sniper Competition, with all other competing Army Guard teams placing among the top 10.
Army Staff Sgts. Jaime Jimenez and Joshua Cavalier, both with the Army Guard’s Warrior Training Center, took home the second place win while fourth place went to Army Sgt. Daniel Rilett and Cpl. Trent Devos, both with the Michigan Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment. The “All-Guard” Team of Army Sgts. Nicholas Mitchell and Saykham Keophalychanh came in sixth.
First place went to a team from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Over the course of four days at Fort Benning, Ga., the competition tested 29 sniper teams from throughout the U.S. military, foreign militaries and civilian law enforcement agencies on their physical fitness, target acquisition abilities, long and short-range shooting skills, camouflage techniques and attention to detail. The aerial event assessed the snipers’ ability to fire from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
“The intent of most of the courses of fire is to put you in an uncomfortable position, under stress, and evaluate your problem solving and marksmanship ability while [working] as a team,” said Mitchell, who, along with Keophalynchanh, won last year’s sniper competition while representing the Michigan Army Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment. The pair also won this year’s sniper competition in the annual Winston P. Wilson Rifle and Pistol Championship, which tests the top marksmen from throughout the Army and Air National Guard.
For Keophalynchanh, the competition allowed him to learn new approaches to putting rounds on target in a variety of situations.
“Every team is going to approach it differently,” he said. “It lets you compare and contrast different thought processes and mindsets in terms of approaching the problem [of engaging the target],” he said.
Mitchell had similar thoughts.
“It’s fun,” he said, referring to the competition. “There’s the prizes, there’s the spirit of competition, but in the end, it’s always a learning event – learning different things from different people.”
The competition proved to be challenging, said Mitchell.
“These competitions stress your mind and your body a great degree while getting little to no sleep and very little to eat,” he said.
“Being able to stay mentally focused when you are stressing your body out to the max daily and getting very little sleep is one of the biggest challenges,” said Devos, adding that preparation and helping each other stay focused during the competition was vital to make it through those challenges.
“Keeping focused is a team task,” he said. “We try to stay vigilant with each other when one or the other starts to lose focus.”
“We have to work off of one another and constantly keep each other in check, whether it’s reminding each other to eat or drink every so often, the constant equipment and ammo checks or just reminding each other to stay calm and keep putting one foot in front of the other until the job is done,” he said.
Despite those challenges, Mitchell said he was grateful for the chance to take part in the competition.
“We are fortunate to get to compete against some of the most talented snipers in the world today,” he said. “Just being able to share the misery and the bliss, the triumphs and the defeats, the honor, admiration and the respect of the man fighting valiantly to your left and to your right keeps me putting one foot in front of the other no matter the internal struggle I may be facing in the moment.”
All of that also makes him a better Soldier, said Mitchell.
“Pushing myself to my potential, eliminating my ego and understanding my individual strengths and weaknesses makes me a better Soldier, a better sniper and a better leader,” he said.
It also helps the Soldiers back in his unit as well.
“By realizing my weaknesses, I realize where the focus on my training needs to increase,” said Mitchell. “If, as a leader, I am weak in a specific area, chances are my lower enlisted Soldiers are also weak in that area. This gives our training direction and increases our strength and combat readiness together as a team.”
That becomes especially important when deployed, said Mitchell.
“These [Soldiers] are the ones that are going to be to my left and right when I or someone else needs them most,” he said.
With teams from Canada, Denmark, Germany and Norway, that also meant learning different techniques from international partners.
“Being able to share and collect information from the other [competitors] from around the nation, military and world allies, that’s what these competitions are all about,” said Devos. “Competing is the obvious [focus], but being able to share and learn from one another is also a huge part of these competitions.”
But for Mitchell, as part of the “All-Guard” Team, it was an honor just competing.
“We’re representing the [Army] National Guard as a whole,” he said. “For us, that was an incredible honor and responsibility and kept us completely focused and driven to do our best to represent such an outstanding organization.”