– “It’s not something on the tip of your tongue, it’s not something you hear every day,” said Maj. Andrew Parsons, Vermont Army National Guard,“ It’s something that people recognize when it’s on TV … on the Olympics every four years, it’s intriguing to watch and then people forget about it.”
“It” is the biathlon, a sport combining cross country skiing and marksmanship, and the Massachusetts National Guard is looking for Soldiers and Airmen to join their team. The biathlon requires competitors ski a course as fast as they can while stopping at key points on the course and placing well aimed shots at small targets sitting 160 feet away. For every miss the competitor incurs a time penalty.
“It’s not a numerically large sport,” said Parsons, National Guard Biathlon Coordinator and a former member of the Massachusetts team, “there are hotbeds of it around the country; in Minnesota, Alaska … New England.”
Since 1973, when the National Guard took over managing the biathlon program from the Active Army, Mass. Guardsmen have been part of the program.
“It’s something that is being resurrected,” said 2nd Lt. Stephen Fiola, coach and coordinator, Massachusetts Biathlon Team, “it was reinstated last year … 2010 … and is being vamped up again this year.
The last time the state fielded a team was in 2006, though individual Guardsmen have been representing the state since then as individual competitors.
“The program in Massachusetts was strong in the 80’s and early 90’s,” said Fiola,” It’s a fantastic outlet for people who have either done the biathlon before … or (have) never done the biathlon before.
While the state currently has a limited amount of equipment, Fiola doesn’t want the less than experienced Servicemembers to think that they are going to be wasting their time by trying out for the team.
“People who are willing to learn,” said Fiola, “we’re willing to teach.”
As is the case with all Army programs, the team will use the crawl, walk and run format.
“There’s going to be three different levels,” said Fiola, “An Alpha, Bravo and Charlie team and it will loosely associate with a skill level.”
According to the regulations of the National Guard sports program, the state can only have 12 Servicemembers to actively compete on the team. If there are enough Servicemembers who are interested, Fiola said that he will seek the additional resources to help train the other troops.
“We’d try to keep the Alpha team as the primary 12 that compete in the regional, national or international (level), depending how they place,” said Fiola, “The Bravo and Charlie’s teams are going to be the intermediates and the novices.”
In addition to the competitions and regular training events, Fiola intends to hold additional training opportunities that will be open to all the members of the team. This training will strengthen and develop the skill level of each competitor, hopefully allowing the Guard to field a competitive team now and in the future.
“Any training event that we do,” said Fiola, “The people who... teach these seminars are the subject matter experts. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for five years or for five minutes, anyone will be able to grasp it.”
Fiola realizes that while many Servicemembers have experience skiing and all have experience shooting; very few have experience combining the two.
“There’s a five year plan that I’ve put together,” said Fiola, “Part of that incorporates the aspect of people with no experience … to be at (the) point where they are competing at the regional level.”
If you have any questions about the biathlon team, you can contact 2nd Lt. Stephen Fiola at Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.