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 hosted at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, Feb. 12-17, 2022, where more than 120 competitors from 30 different states competed for the championship.
The competition consisted of four different races: two individual races consisting of the 7.5 km sprint, and the 9 km pursuit, and two team races consisting of the relay, and the unique patrol race, which is 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 on courses of various lengths with their rifle slung on their back, stopping in between laps to shoot at 1.8-inch targets from the prone, and 4.5-inch targets from standing positions. Every target missed results in the athlete skiing a penalty loop.
Dooley said that 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 include 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 will be selected as All Guard. These athletes receive more funding for biathlon training with the intent of creating athletes who will then participate in national and international competitions.
The training that these Guardsmen do for their competitions goes hand in hand with their 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 spark interest in joining 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.”