JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Four Alaska National Guard biathletes took first place in the women’s overall category at the Annual Chief of the National Guard Biathlon Championships.
More than 120 competitors from 30 states competed for the championship at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, Feb. 12-17.
There were four races: a 7.5 km sprint, the 9 km pursuit, the relay, and the unique patrol race designed to mirror a specific military operation.
“[Biathlon] is basically marksmanship skills combined with cross country skiing,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Tracy Dooley, one of the Alaska athletes.
Participants ski various distances with their rifle slung on their back, stopping between laps to shoot at 1.8-inch targets from the prone position and 4.5-inch targets while standing. Every target missed results in the athlete skiing a penalty loop.
Dooley said biathlon is a realistic representation of shooting skills used in combat scenarios such as running to cover and concealment, quickly setting up in position, and firing under duress.
“The big thing that’s really challenging about the biathlon is that you’re skiing out on the course really hard and you get this high heart rate, and then you have to transition into becoming a shooter,” she said.
The seven Alaska participants included Dooley, Maj. David Cunningham, Sgt. Major Travis Kulp, 1st Sgt. Angela Horn, Sgt. 1st Class Heather Percy, Staff Sgt. Anna Knopes, and Sgt. Jason Bell.
Dooley, Cunningham, who is also team coordinator and one of the coaches, and Kulp, the second team coach, earned All Guard Biathlon Team honors.
According to Dooley, those who perform best in the National Guard championships are selected as All Guard. These athletes receive more funding for biathlon training and a chance to advance to national and international competitions.
The training for competitions goes hand in hand with military training.
“It increases a person’s physical fitness, and it helps you stay on top of your marksmanship skills, because all the basic fundamentals are the same: position, natural point of aim, sight picture, breathing, trigger squeeze, follow-through, all apply,” said Dooley.
The Alaska athletes train during their own time to improve these skills, but often they’ll meet up to ski together or host team meetings at a biathlon range near Kincaid Park in Anchorage.
Dooley said she is proud of the team’s accomplishments at the national competition and hopes that young Soldiers and Airmen in the Alaska National Guard might join their biathlon family.
“I think that the Alaska Team did an amazing job,” she said. “[We’re thankful for] the Alaskan community and the resources we have. It’s always those who really love the sport who donate and volunteer their time, and we wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”