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News | Feb. 4, 2022

How the National Guard Biathlon Program came to Vermont

By Joshua Cohen and Maj. J. Scott Detweiler Vermont National Guard Public Affairs

Next year marks the 50th anniversary the Vermont National Guard has hosted the National Guard Biathlon program.

In 1973, after the U.S. Army disbanded the Modern Winter Biathlon Training Center in Alaska, the Vermont National Guard picked up the biathlon mission through efforts of then Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Reginald M. Cram.

Cram tasked Brig. Gen. Howard Buxton with moving the U.S. Army biathlon training facility to Vermont, beginning a 30 year relationship with the sport, according to VTNG Col. Alan Nye (ret.), involved with the program from 1973-2003.

Before the program’s handover to the VTNG, from 1960-1973, every member of the U.S. Olympic Biathlon team had served with USMWBTC.

Nye said Buxton played an instrumental role in the development of the sport, serving as president of the U.S. Biathlon Association, head of the National Biathlon Federation and delegate to the U.S. Olympic Committee. Buxton served as the VTNG assistant adjutant general, retiring in 1986.

Nye said, “We ended up getting the program from Fort Greely, Alaska, at first it was full time solders.” Nye worked his first biathlon race in 1973 at the Ethan Allen Firing Range, “back then we used a .308 round, not a .22LR, just about any rifle using that round was acceptable.”

Nye and others established Biathlon training facilities at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho with the State’s adjutant general designated as the program executive director. “Maj. Gen. Cram sent (then Maj.) Buxton to Alaska with instructions to bring back every piece of biathlon-related gear that is not bolted down,” Nye recalled.

“The efforts of General Cram and General Buxton in the late seventies had a profound effect and benefit for the VTNG, through their work every state is authorized a Biathlon team but only Vermont is home to the National Guard Bureau Biathlon program,” according to Master Sgt. Daniel Westover, biathlon trainer and former team-member himself. Westover currently serves as a traditional Citizen-Solider.

Westover participated in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. He then served as an alternate for the U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team in the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, Utah, before again taking part in the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

Westover said that “Soldier athletes from across the country train in Jericho, over the years it has justified an amazing amount of improvement to the Ethan Allen Firing Range.”

The National Guard Bureau designated Vermont as the host State for the National Championships in 1975, 1976, and 1977 with the Vermont National Guard team winning the games in 1975 and 1976.

“By 1980 the National Guard Bureau authorized a full-time position to manage the program, Maj. Bill Spencer was given the job, and he was a biathlete involved at the international level,” Nye said.

“Having the program based in Vermont brings a dedicated budget from Guard Bureau, it also brings a dedicated full-time Active Guard and Reserve staff to Vermont,” Westover said.

The National Guard Biathlon program now consists of two full-time VTNG military staff responsible for developing events and funding. Recognized as a national biathlon training center, CEATS hosted the first Chief of the National Guard Bureau (CNGB) Biathlon Championships in 1975.

The 1984 National Guard Bureau Championships, hosted by the VTNG marked substantial growth for the sport in America. 147 competitors from 27 states, Norway and Canada, participated, making it the largest biathlon competition held in the U.S. at the time. VTARNG Capt. Robert Power earned the first selection from the State named to the U.S. National Men’s Biathlon Team.

In 1986, led by Maj. Gen. Donald Edwards, national director for the National Guard Biathlon Program, the first U.S. delegation to compete in the Council of International Sports Militaire (CISM), otherwise known as the military world games, traveled to Ruhpolding, Germany.

Three years later, the VTNG hosted the CISM Winter Games in the United States for the first time, followed by subsequent CISMs in 1993 and 2001 also held at the VTNG Biathlon Training Center. Nye served as chief of competition for each of these events.

From there, the National Guard biathlon program continued to mature, sending more than 10 Soldier-athletes to the Olympics between 1992 and 2014.

Following improvements to a paved track at the VTNG Biathlon Training Center, CEATS hosted the U.S. Rollerski Biathlon Championships, the premier summer biathlon event in North America, in 2019. 100 athletes from across the U.S. and Canada competed in sprint, pursuit, and mass start races.

After representing the U.S. at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics, Leif Nordgren joined the Vermont Army National Guard in 2019 and immediately earned the coveted title of, “Vermont Soldier of the Year” in 2020.

Similarly, Sean Doherty brought home a gold medal in the 2014 Youth World Championships and the 2016 Junior World Championships while also representing the U.S. at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. He then accompanied Nordgren in joining the VTNG in 2019.

In 2020-2021 the COVID-19 pandemic impacted biathlon training, requiring individual states to conduct smaller events.

However, the pandemic did not stop four members of the National Guard Biathlon Team who earned selections to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Doherty and Nordgren will compete in their third Olympics on the men’s biathlon team.

Sgt. Deedra Irwin will compete on the women’s team in her first Olympic appearance. In addition, Spc. Vaclav Cervenka will serve as the men’s alternate.

Doherty and Cervenka serve as Carpentry and Masonry Specialists with Detachment 1, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Garrison Support Command; Irwin serves as a Human Resources Specialist with 86th Troop Command, Garrison Support Command; and Nordgren serves as an Aviation Operations Specialist with Army Aviation, Garrison Support Command.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” lauded Maj. Kevin Elmer, National Guard Biathlon Coordinator. “I know all of the work and dedication our athletes and coaches put in every day and now they will get to represent their country at the pinnacle of athletic competition.”

Vermont National Guard Biathlon Program Timeline

1973: U.S. Army biathlon training mission transferred from Ft. Greely, Ak. to the VTNG, the first biathlon race was held that year.

1975: The first Chief of the National Guard Bureau (CNGB) Biathlon Championships held at the Ethan Allen Firing Range.

1975: The National Guard Bureau designated Vermont as the host State for the National Championships with the Vermont National Guard team winning the games in 1975 and 1976.

1977: Vermont’s team earns first place in the National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championship.

1978: Vermont National Guard biathletes win the National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championship, resulting in four members of the Vermont team placing on the National Guard Biathlon Team.

1979: Seventeen states and a regular Army team compete with Vermont in the National Guard Bureau Championships held at the Vermont National Guard Biathlon Training Center, after a close competition, the Vermont team added another win to the record book.

That same year, 15 National Guard personnel filled positions in the Olympic Biathlon Race Organization that planned, prepared, and successfully conducted the 1980 Olympic Biathlon competition held in Lake Placid, NY.

1984: The VTNG hosts the National Guard Bureau Championships with 147 competitors from 27 states, Norway and Canada, participating, making it the largest biathlon competition held in the U.S. at the time.

1986: Vermont’s team finishes first in the National Guard Bureau Championship, hosted by Vermont, the event comprised 160 competitors from 32 states.

1986: Led by Maj. Gen. Donald Edwards, national program director for the National Guard Biathlon Program, the first U.S. delegation to compete in the Council International Sports Militaire (CISM), otherwise known as the military world games, travels to Ruhpolding, Germany.

Later that year, a team representing the National Guard with Vermont biathletes competed at the International Ski Championships for Alpini Troops in San Candido, Italy. The event marked the first time an American team earned an award in these championships, winning a bronze medal.

1989: The VTNG hosted the CISM Winter Games in the United States, followed by the 1993 and 2001 games also held at the Vermont National Guard Biathlon Training Center. Nye served as chief of competition.

The National Guard team has also represented the U.S. Armed Forces in five additional international military events, CaSTA in Italy, CNME in Spain, MC-DSC in Germany, CITM in Argentina, and CIEM in Chile.

1989: The Vermont National Guard team wins the National Guard Bureau Championships.

1990: Of the six guard members named to the 1990-1991 U.S. National Team, three were members of the Vermont National Guard.

2003: The National Guard Biathlon Championships held at the Vermont National Guard Biathlon Training Center.

2011: 2010 Vancouver Olympian, Wynn Roberts joins the Vermont National Guard.

2015: Over 120 athletes from 24 states gathered in Vermont for the 40th Annual Chief, National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships, a five-day event.

2016: A significantly decreased budget led to the cancelation of all regional events.

2017: The Vermont National Guard Biathlon Training Center hosts the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championship that included 120 National Guardsmen from 23 different states.

2018: National Guardsmen from 24 states competed in their respective Regional Biathlon Competitions at the Vermont National Guard Biathlon Training Center.

2018 and 2019: Season combined Central and Eastern Regional races hosted by the Vermont National Guard.

2019: The U.S. Rollerski Biathlon Championships, the premier summer biathlon event in North America, held at the Vermont National Guard Biathlon Training Center, 100 athletes from across the U.S. and Canada competed in sprint, pursuit, and mass start races.

2019: Two members of the U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team joined the VTARNG in 2019, Leif Nordgren represented the U.S. at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. Sean Doherty brought home a gold medal in the 2014 Youth World Championships and the 2016 Junior World Championships. Doherty also represented the U.S. at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics.

2020 and 2021: the COVID-19 pandemic impacted biathlon training, requiring individual states to conduct smaller events.

2022: The pandemic did not stop four members of the National Guard Biathlon Team who earned selections to compete at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Doherty and Nordgren will compete on the men’s biathlon team, with Cervenka serving as an alternate; Irwin will compete on the women’s team.

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