Utah places well at Chief National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships at Soldier Hollow
On Thursday, Soldier Hollow hosted the final day of the Chief National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships. In the clear, warm morning, soldiers representing more than 20 states competed in an event just for soldiers — the patrol race. The four-person teams powered up the slope above the starting line, then raced around the course and back to the shooting area, where each team broke down into two prone shooters, one standing shooter and a leader who watched as the soldiers fired five shots at targets from each position.
“If you watch the Olympics, you won’t see this event,” said Major Daniel Morken, a member of the Utah National Guard biathlon team. “As you can see, the trails get a little crowded because we’re skiing in teams of four. So it gets a little tricky at times.”
Each missed shot meant a lap around the 150-meter penalty loop.
Despite the dense field, at the conclusion of the final event, the Utah National Guard’s women’s team took first, and the men finished third overall, and managed to earn a podium in the pursuit race.
“It was a great day,” said Captain Barbara Blanke of the Utah National Guard’s women’s team. “It just felt like we were ready for this event, and it just feels good at the end of it to set a goal and work together as a team.”
Blanke said the Utah team has been successful because it has several experienced athletes who help guide the team, including former Olympic biathlete Jeremy Teela, a staff sergeant.
“And not only that, we have a lot of passion for this sport,” Blanke said. “No matter what ability we have, it seems there’s always someone around us doing a little bit better and it lifts everybody.”
In particular, Blanke mentioned athletes from Colorado and Wyoming, who provided strong competition in the pursuit and sprint races.
Teela competed in the 2002 Olympics and advocated for bringing the Chief National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships to Soldier Hollow. He said he has been in the National Guard since 1998, and like everyone in the National Guard, he serves the governor of his state. Sometimes that means deployment, Which Morken said can make it hard to build solid teams.
“The National Guard program is rebuilding,” Morken said. “Prior to 2001, this was a very competitive program. And you can see guys like Jeremy that are here, and there’s several that are all prior Olympians. They are left over from the days when the program was very competitive. Starting in 2001 — we’re soldiers first — so we spent time on other priorities.”
Also, because women make up a smaller percentage of the National Guard overall and have fewer biathletes, the complication is compounded for them. There were three all-female teams competing at the CNGBBC.
“It’s hard to put together four, especially in the military, because many of our members deploy,” Blanke said. “Two of our members of our team are going next week, and we have other women that come out and train with us, but they are either deployed or have other assignments at this time, so it’s kind of hard to pull together four.”
She said in that regard, the Utah team has been lucky to be remain so strong — it won the CNGBBC last year, too. Both the men and the women said they are actively recruiting. And while deployment may not be beneficial to the National Guard’s biathlon program, the biathlon program helps prepare soldiers for deployment.
Teela, who served as the captain of the men’s patrol team, said biathlon helps soldiers hone their basic skills — shooting, moving and communicating.
“All the fundamentals we do in biathlon are building blocks for a great soldier,” he said.
Staff Sargent Ty’Lene Puro of the Utah women’s team said the biathlon competitions made her feel more ready for deployment, and with a deployment to the Middle East upcoming, she said the CNGBBC was timely for her.
“It was really awesome that we got to host it this year, because I got to be on home turf, on home snow, and see my family every night before I leave, and plus I get to see the team one last time before I go,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a better way to prep for a (deployment) than to be out doing something that’s physically and mentally tough, so it’s a great last hurrah for me.”
Those that place highly at the CNGBBC are named to the All-Guard team, which competes internationally in Europe and South America.
Puro said seeing her teammate, Blanke, make the All-Guard team last year gave her a goal to train for, and Blanke said making the team exposes soldiers to how different nations compete, and soldier.
“You get to make friends,” she said. “When we were (in Germany) people wanted to know about different training, deployments, they wanted to know a lot of military information and we share that as well, because it is still a military sport with those groups. It’s kind of cool to go and compete with the 10th Panzer Division. There’s a lot of history there.”