Guard Biathlete Sets Sights on World Cup, 2022 Olympics

SPC Travis Cooper of the Alaska Army National Guard. Photo courtesy Army.mil.

Specialist (SPC) Travis Cooper is a member of the Alaska Army National Guard, but he lives in Vermont, more than 4,000 miles away from his Unit. That kind of distance would probably break the record for longest commute to drill. However, he’s exempt from his monthly duty because he’s part of the Army National Guard’s Biathlon Team.

For 10 1/2 to 11 months of the year, SPC Cooper is on official orders – he’s either in training or competing in biathlons, which combine cross-country skiing with target shooting.

Even when it isn’t snowing, the Alaska native is competing in the summer version of his sport by zipping up and down paved pathways on rollerskis. In fact, SPC Cooper won the 2019 U.S. National Biathlon Rollerski Championship in August. This victory puts him one step closer to earning a starting spot in the World Cup Championships in Europe this winter as a member of his other team – the U.S. Biathlon Men’s National Team.

He’s also hoping to compete in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing – but not stop there.

“The Olympics is probably the highest goal I’d like to achieve, but I’m determined to go two or three Olympic cycles.”

SPC Cooper joined the Guard four years ago at the suggestion of a family friend and member of the Wyoming Army National Guard Biathlon Team. He was put in touch with recruiters in Alaska and, from there, the Guard’s biathlon team coaches in Jericho, Vt.

Growing up, he knew the military could be a career option – as a child he’d dreamed of becoming a Navy Seal or a firefighter, but “the Guard opportunity was too good to pass up.” He likes the challenge of competing in a physically and mentally demanding sport.

SPC Cooper chose 91L Construction Vehicle Repairer for his military occupational specialty (MOS) for strategic reasons. It came with a signing bonus, a relatively short training period, plus “it’s a pretty practical job and skill to learn. I had my sights on doing biathlon, and so anything that could get me through basic training, AIT, and back to Vermont to start biathlon the fastest was my goal.”

A competitive skier since the seventh grade, SPC Cooper, 23, made the National Guard team off the bat, despite having limited biathlon experience – he’d done a couple of camps with a local club back in Alaska. He had the skiing part down pat. It’s the marksmanship part that he finds more challenging.

“In shooting, it can change day-to-day. We have races when it’s calm out or when it’s gale-force 50-mile-an-hour winds, so we need to make sight adjustments for those winds.”

Experience is also a factor.

“There are people who’ve been shooting ten years longer than I have. Their muscle memory when it comes to holding the rifle is just so much better than mine is.”

Competitions have taken him to 13 different countries, and he’s made many friends along the way.

“Especially being a National Guard athlete, I’ve met so many people from across the country. I know Colonels from Utah and Privates from Rhode Island. The National Guard is a very big family. I like the camaraderie of it.”

When he does make it home to Alaska, about twice a year, “I’ll go check in with my Unit, even if it’s not a drill weekend, to try to make up some days and do some extra things for them.”

One of the benefits of serving in the Army National Guard is that it provides money for college. SPC Cooper plans to take advantage of that in the near future, and someday try out for the Guard’s Special Forces. But for now, biathlon “is my military and civilian career wrapped into one.”

His advice for anyone considering joining the Guard is, “Weigh all your options, but I think it’s an incredible opportunity to further yourself in life in general. I think it’s a pretty incredible organization. Determine what you want and go for it.”

And there are plenty of choices in the Army National Guard. With more than 130 MOSs, you can, for instance, be in charge of heavy weapons, provide military intelligence or medical help, keep things running smoothly in supply and logistics, and so much more. You can search our job board for details on any career. While the vast majority of Guard Soldiers serve part-time, there are also full-time opportunities. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

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Ace Lends a Paw to Guard Soldiers in Need

Ace, a therapy dog in training, is the newest member of the New Jersey Army National Guard’s Psychological Health Program. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht).

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – The New Jersey Army National Guard’s Psychological Health Program recently welcomed its fifth team member, although instead of wearing combat boots, he has four paws. Ace is a rescue dog, and at 8 months old, he’s been making waves throughout the State as a therapy animal in training.

Ace can be seen sporting military gear with a large “PET ME” patch emblazoned on the side.

“He’s going to be a tool that we’ll be able to use in order to connect Soldiers and provide emotional and therapeutic support throughout the State,” says Captain (CPT) Melissa Parmenter, a behavioral health officer with the New Jersey Army National Guard.

“Sometimes when we’re struggling with mental illness or just life stressors, it’s hard to get that courage to come forward and ask for some help, so Ace’s role will be to help open that door.”

When CPT Parmenter was pondering what to name the dog, her husband noted that Batman had a dog named Ace. She immediately took to the idea when she realized it fit the Army acronym for Ask, Care, Escort.

CPT Melissa Parmenter and therapy dog, Ace, in front of the New Jersey National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. (Photo by MSG Matt Hecht).

“A.C.E. teaches Soldiers at the lowest level, if you have a battle buddy in need, this is how to get them to the right place, and not to leave them alone until they’re in the right hands,” she says.

Ace has already been helping Soldiers, providing comfort to those in need.

“Everybody’s body posture and everything changes automatically when they see him. He’s licking everybody, and everybody is trying to touch him, hug him, and get kisses from him. The whole demeanor of wherever he walks in changes.”

CPT Parmenter hopes that Ace will break down barriers when it comes to mental health.

“I think Ace will help change the thinking that therapy has to be sitting at a desk and talking to someone,” she says.

“I think it will help us get the message across that there are different modalities available, and there are different ways to receive therapy that can be helpful and really beneficial.”

Making an impact is ingrained in the Army National Guard’s mission. If you’re passionate about helping others and making a difference in someone’s life, consider joining the National Guard. With hundreds of positions available in the medical field, including mental health specialists, you, too, can serve part-time in your home State, and take care of those who may need you the most. To see all current job opportunities, visit the job board or contact a recruiter to learn more today.

From an original article by MSG Matt Hecht, New Jersey National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October 2019.

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A Guard Soldier’s Journey from Truck Driver to Attorney

In his eight years of part-time service with the Illinois Army National Guard, Jacob Smith has gotten some big benefits – leadership skills, a sense of direction in life, and his undergraduate and law degrees, courtesy of the Guard’s education benefits.

And now this former 88M Truck Driver is putting his law degree to work as the newest officer in the Illinois Guard’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, the branch of the Guard that serves as a legal resource for Soldiers, Guard units, and the State Adjutant General.

“It is an interesting contrast,” says First Lieutenant (1LT) Smith of his switch in military occupational specialties (MOSs) from driving large vehicles to now advising his colleagues on legal matters.

“Being a JAG officer is more applicable to my civilian career,” he says. “It will broaden my base of legal experience and knowledge.”

Growing up, 1LT Smith had positive impressions of becoming an attorney, having worked in his family’s law firm, and of military service because his father had served in the active duty Army and later the Illinois Army National Guard.

After starting college, 1LT Smith decided to serve in the military.

“I thought the Guard would be a good way to do both at the same time.”

1LT Jacob Smith has gone from 88M Truck Driver to an officer in the Illinois Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

1LT Jacob Smith has gone from 88M Truck Driver to an officer in the Illinois Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

He chose 88M because Illinois has a lot of transportation units, and the MOS had a relatively short training schedule. His Advanced Individual Training could be squeezed into a summer between semesters, plus he could drill close to school.

And because of his State’s tuition assistance, 1LT Smith estimates he has saved somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000 in tuition for his undergrad and law degrees. On top of that, the GI Bill helped with living expenses while he was in school.

“These are huge benefits on the financial side,” says 1LT Smith, 26, who’s also hoping to take advantage of another Guard benefit in the next few years – VA home loan eligibility – which allows Soldiers to buy a home with little to no down payment.

1LT Smith, who’s been an attorney since 2017, just recently completed his JAG Corps training, a two-part process. First, he attended the 6-week Direct Commission Course at Fort Benning, and then he spent 10 ½ weeks at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Virginia where he received “a crash course in many areas of military law.”

As a judge advocate in his new unit, 1LT Smith expects to do a fair amount of what’s called administrative law. This includes participating in administrative separation boards used to determine whether a Soldier should be discharged from the Guard because of misconduct. In such cases, the Soldier would appear before a board instead of in a courtroom.

“It’s one tool used by commanders to more efficiently deal with certain misconduct, rather than pursuing a court-martial process.”

Judge advocates often deal with cases involving criminal offenses as well, which is a departure from 1LT Smith’s full-time civilian law career, where he focuses on business law, estate planning, and commercial real estate and banking matters.

As a JAG officer, he’ll also be handling cases related to property law. 1LT Smith explains that typically a commander would initiate an investigation if a sensitive and valuable item like a pair of night vision goggles was lost to determine if someone should be held liable. A JAG officer would review the findings to make sure they are legally sufficient.

One of 1LT Smith’s goals for the future is to deploy overseas and work in operational law: “the laws of war, advising commanders in an overseas environment on whether they can legally engage certain targets, spend money on particular projects, and what are the repercussions for taking certain actions in a combat environment,” he says. “It’s an area of law where there’s not really a civilian equivalent.”

Overall, 1LT Smith says his time in the Guard has given him direction in his life, great people to serve with, and an opportunity to give back.

“The opportunity to serve comes with sacrifices, certainly, but I get to carry on a civilian career and work with incredible leaders and friends,” he says. “It adds tremendous value to my life.”

So, if you’re looking for a way to serve your community and your country part-time while you pursue a civilian career, you should speak to an Army National Guard recruiter. Besides outstanding education benefits, the Guard also offers training in more than 130 career fields.

Search our job board for details on careers in engineering, administration, infantry, armor and field artillery, aviation, medicine, military police, intelligence, mechanic and maintenance, transportation, and logistics support.

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