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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Guard Soldier’s Service Inspired by Dad, Destiny, and Girl in a Grocery Store

Not long after immigrating to Indiana from her native Honduras, a young Arely Elrod encountered a “beautiful girl in a uniform” at a grocery store.

It wasn’t a military dress uniform, just your everyday fatigues, but the pre-teen was transfixed. She hadn’t realized that girls could be Soldiers.

Initially, Arely’s mother dismissed her daughter’s interest in the military as a phase. No – her daughter was destined to be an attorney, a doctor, or an engineer. But Arely felt a stronger pull toward a career in discipline that never really let go.

Now 32, Corporal (CPL) Elrod proudly wears a uniform as part of the Indiana Army National Guard.

“When I put that uniform on I feel alive. I feel like I belong somewhere.”

That somewhere can be elbow deep in an engine compartment – she’s a 91L Construction Vehicle Repairer – or singing in front of a crowd of thousands as part of the Indiana National Guard’s ceremonial unit.             

Before joining the Guard, CPL Elrod had enlisted in the Army in 2008 after trying to make it in L.A. in modeling, acting, and music.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Modeling is easy for me. I wanted to do something that was unexpected. I wanted to explore the world and see what I have to offer this earth, what I have to offer this country.”

CPL Arely Elrod (formerly Rosario) of the Indiana Army National Guard.

CPL Arely Elrod (formerly Rosario) of the Indiana Army National Guard.

Working as a mechanic on heavy machinery like bulldozers was both an unexpected choice for the 5-foot-1, self-described “girly” Soldier, and far outside her comfort zone.

“The only thing I had done to a car before was drive it, and I barely knew how to put gas in it.”

After a tour in Afghanistan, where she lost some friends, CPL Elrod came back to the States, got the therapy she needed to deal with her combat experiences, got married, moved to Florida, left the Army, and had a son.

When her marriage ended, she moved back to Indiana to go to law school, but found out it wasn’t for her. Plus, she missed the camaraderie of being in the military.

She signed on with the Guard on March 7, 2016 – a date she knows by heart.

“It’s the day I decided to take my life into my own hands and into my destiny,” she says. “I wanted to remind myself how strong I was. I picked up what I remembered and joined the National Guard. It has been the ride of a lifetime.”

As part of the Indiana Army National Guard’s ceremonial unit, CPL Elrod, pictured with her husband, John, and her son, Louie, has sung at many high-profile sporting events including an Indianapolis Colts game.

As part of the Indiana Army National Guard’s ceremonial unit, CPL Elrod, pictured with her husband, John, and her son, Louie, has sung at many high-profile sporting events including an Indianapolis Colts game.

CPL Elrod takes satisfaction in knowing that her mechanical expertise keeps her fellow Soldiers safe, but what she really loves is performing in the ceremonial unit. She has sung at events ranging from retirement ceremonies for 30 people to sporting events like the Indianapolis 500, and Indianapolis Colts and Indians games.

“It’s my passion and being able to combine both things – what I love to do with music, and being able to support my State and country – that’s the best combination to me.”

The flexibility of serving part-time with the Guard also gives her time to pursue other interests. CPL Elrod and her husband recently started a maintenance, cleaning, and landscaping business, and on the side, she does makeup and microblading.

CPL Elrod says she felt destined to do something in a field that involves discipline and to be of service, traits instilled in her by her father who had passed away before the family left Honduras.

“My biological father was so loving, so selfless. He did more for others than he did for himself.”

Besides volunteering in Indianapolis to impress upon her son how blessed their family is, she wants to serve her community in a new way by becoming a police officer.

She’ll find out in December if she’s accepted by the academy.

“Because of the skills I’ve learned in the military, I’ve passed everything with flying colors – my physical, my written exams, and my oral exams.”

If it doesn’t work out, she wouldn’t mind exploring a medical career instead and moving up the ranks in the Guard.

“I’m always looking for things I can do,” she says.

So, if you’re looking to leave your comfort zone behind and serve something bigger than yourself, consider joining the Army National Guard, which offers great education benefits and careers in fields like engineering, aviation, armor and field artillery, and transportation. Contact your local recruiter for more information.

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