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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Off-Duty South Carolina Guard Members Help Bahamian Hurricane Victims


2LT William “Cole” Sanford Jr. and 2LT Sam Evans, both from the South Carolina Army National Guard, fly back and forth from Florida to the Bahamas while off duty in September 2019 to deliver supplies to victims of Hurricane Dorian.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Two South Carolina Army National Guard members volunteered to deliver needed supplies to Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian in five flights on a small plane.

South Carolina Army National Guard Second Lieutenant (2LT) Sam Evans, 1-118th Infantry Battalion, Bravo Company platoon leader, and 2LT William “Cole” Sanford Jr., Charlie Company, 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion platoon leader, found the opportunity to volunteer via an online forum from a group that had organized the collection of supplies but needed pilots and planes to fly them to the Bahamas.

“I reached out to get more details, and asked Sanford if he was interested in making the relief trips with me, to which he said yes,” says 2LT Evans.

Hurricane Dorian inflicted heavy damage on the Bahamas Aug. 24, 2019, killing at least 50 people and leaving about 70,000 people homeless.

2LT Evans, a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and ROTC cadet, obtained his private pilot license before commissioning and then returned to South Carolina. 2LT Sanford, a graduate of Wofford College in South Carolina and an ROTC cadet, earned his private pilot license for a single-engine, land, and fixed-wing aircraft while attending school.

The two flew back and forth from South Florida to the Bahamas five times in September on a two-seat single-engine prop 1943 Luscombe Silvaire, delivering more than 500 pounds of toiletries, tents, and Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

“We were limited on space and weight,” says 2LT Evans, who is pursuing a commercial pilot license. “We could take about 100 pounds of supplies each trip and would pack aid into every space possible.”

“At the end of the day, what we did was small,” says 2LT Sanford. “But it felt good that the toiletries and other things that we brought could be helping someone. It may just have been a pick-me-up for someone who had just lost their house.”

The Army National Guard gives Soldiers like 2LTs Sanford and Evans the opportunity to pursue civilian careers, education, and other training while serving part-time in their home State, so there is time to further your career while staying close to home.

Citizen-Soldiers earn benefits to help pay for education and expenses while serving their country and their community.

With positions in more than 130 career fields including heavy weapons, intelligence, and aviation, you can find your perfect fit. Check out the job board for more information on available careers, and contact a local recruiter to learn more. 

From an original article by SGT David Erskine, South Carolina National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in October 2019.

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Soldier’s Volunteer Service Embodies ‘Spirit of the National Guard’

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A service member is often born with a strong desire to help others. Whether it’s coaching a child’s sports team, cleaning up the neighborhood, or any number of other community activities, public service is frequently a common trait of those serving in the military, specifically the Army National Guard.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Nick Van Kirk, a logistics and decontamination Non-commissioned Officer with the Washington Army National Guard’s 10th Civil Support Team (CST), wanted to give back to his community in a different way.

SFC Nick Van Kirk, a logistics and decontamination Non-commissioned Officer with the 10th Civil Support Team and volunteer firefighter with South Bay Fire Department, talks with his two commanders before a ceremony on Oct. 10, 2019, in Olympia, Washington. (Photo by Joseph Siemandel).

Growing up in the South Bay community of Olympia, Washington, SFC Van Kirk lived down the street from the South Bay Fire Department.

“I had wanted to be a volunteer firefighter for a while, giving back to the community I grew up in,” he recalls. “Being a full-time active Guard member, I wasn’t sure if I would have that chance.”

He got his chance three years ago when his Unit switched from a five-day workweek to a four-day, 10-hour-a-day schedule.

“The schedule switch gave me the opportunity to go for it, and the leadership with the Civil Support Team supported it.”

Becoming a firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) takes time and requires the individual to volunteer a certain number of hours to earn required certifications. However, being a full-time member of the 10th Civil Support Team and responding at a moment’s notice to support local law enforcement and first responders also requires a lot of time and energy.

“The training for both firefighting and EMT is time-consuming,” says SFC Van Kirk. “My command supported everything about me volunteering with South Bay.”

Volunteering with South Bay hasn’t hindered SFC Van Kirk’s work at the CST.

“He probably volunteers 40-50 hours a month with the fire department,” says CST First Sergeant (1SG) Paul Gautreaux. “He never misses a day of work with us though. He is even there on Mondays getting our folks and gear ready for the week ahead.”

This past Fourth of July, SFC Van Kirk put his training, both with the fire department and the CST, to use during a critical situation. That morning, he and other members of the South Bay team responded to a call involving a driver missing a turn and hitting two small children who were playing on the shoreline.

“We got to the scene first and the two children were injured pretty bad, so we immediately called for additional EMTs, contacted the hospitals, and got everything organized quickly,” he explains, adding the two children were rushed to a local hospital at the time, and “are doing great today.”

SFC Van Kirk received praise from his station leadership for his work.

“Nick was our only volunteer who stayed on for the additional shift,” says John Clemons, medical service officer with the South Bay Fire Department. “He organized the sub-units to the incident and helped save the lives of two little ones. He is a real asset to our station.”

The dedicated Soldier is also an asset to the CST. “He [SFC Van Kirk] is like so many in the organization,” says Major (MAJ) Wes Watson, commander of the CST. “They are the quiet professionals, volunteering their own time to help others. It’s just the spirit of the National Guard.”

Serving the community is one of the many values of the Army National Guard. By serving part-time, Guard Soldiers are given the flexibility and opportunity to pursue their passions, whether it’s volunteering at home, getting a degree, or working a civilian job. With careers in fields like engineering, medicine, and police and protection, there’s no limit to success in the National Guard. To explore available opportunities, browse the job board or contact a recruiter to learn more!

From an original article by CPT Joseph Siemandel, Washington Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in November 2019.

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