By Capt. Jean Marie Kratzer, New York Army National GuardJanuary 18, 2018
LATHAM, N.Y. - Three New York Army National Guard Soldiers are heading for Vermont next week to compete against 42 Soldiers from six other Eastern states in Eastern regional qualifying meet and hopefully head onto the National Guard's national biathlon competition.
Lt. Col. John Studiner, from Arlington, Virginia, and a married couple, Captains Katy and Joseph Moryl, from North Hudson, New York, will be participating in the eastern regional competition of the National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championship at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Jan. 24-28.
The qualifiers from that competition will then compete for the national title at Camp Williams, Utah from Feb. 23 to March 2.
Biathlon combines cross-country skiing with marksmanship. Competitors ski and shoot.
Winning depends on speed on skis and accuracy with a rifle, according to Studiner, the New York National Guard biathlon program coordinator.
All three serve in the Troy-based 42nd Infantry Division headquarters and have raced before.
Studiner has been on the team since 2003. Katy Moryl has competed for three years and her husband is in his second year of competition.
Biathlon has always been considered a military sport, Studiner explained.
"You prepare yourself, your equipment and your rifle for the event and train as you compete; just as you would prepare yourself and your equipment for a mission," Studiner said.
A biathlon team ideally consists of seven men and seven women plus the coach. It can include Air and Army Guard members. But it can be fewer, like this year's New York National Guard team.
Biathlon races vary in length and shooting requirements. There are two individual races followed by two team events.
The first race is a sprint race. The spring race is 10 kilometers for men and seven and a half for women. Each competitor shoots both prone and standing.
The pursuit race is 12.5 kilometers for men and 10 kilometers for the women. That race requires shooting prone twice and shooting standing twice.
During the competition, ranges will have clocks running as each racer fires five shots at bulls eyes placed 50 meters away, using a bolt action rifle with iron sights. Each miss draws a penalty: a minute added to the skier's time or a requirement to complete an extra 150 meter penalty loop.
Over the course of a race, a competitor typically fires 10 to 20 rounds, from prone and offhand positions, Studiner explained.
"You learn a lot about yourself while competing, especially at the longer distance races. You learn that you have more left to give, when you think you're at your limit,"Studiner said.
Biathlon training improves marksmanship and is a challenge because you have to maintain a perfect sight picture in order to hit a target when someone's heart is racing at 130 beats per minute.
"I grew up cross-country skiing in the fields and forests that surrounded my neighborhood. When I enlisted in the Army, I had a lot of fun at the range shooting, which made me want to compete in biathlon even more,"Studiner said.
When he joined the National Guard he found out that the Guard ran the biathlon program and so he joined the New York National Guard biathlon team and has stayed with it since, Studiner said.
Because they're part-time Soldiers who live in different places, the team members usually train on their own, Studiner said. They do get together each summer for a week-long training session at Camp Ethan Allen and other training venues including Lake Placid, New York.
They train on the roads on "roller skis"just like the Olympic athletes do, he said.
When he and Katy Moryl deployed to Guantanamo Bay in 2015 with a 42nd Infantry Division contingent, they roller-skied around the base, he said.
And, of course, they also practice their marksmanship. The team uses .22-caliber bolt action rifles specifically designed for biathlon.
"The sport is a true reflection of old military values and mission readiness that cannot be divorced from physical fitness,"Katy Moryl said. "The accuracy of the shot and ultimate success of the competitor depends upon the physical and mental agility of the competitor."
The New York team has been successful in the past. Two former team members, Air National Guard Master Sgt. Deborah Nordyke and her husband, retired Army National Guard Maj. Curt Schreiner, both competed on Olympic biathlon teams.
The active Army ran the military biathlon program until 1973 and then turned if over to the National Guard. Thirty states send teams to the competitions and the National Guard program has produced 24 Olympic biathlon competitors.
The central and western states normally compete at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, but because there is no snow they will compete at Camp Ethan Allen, according to Maj. Christopher Fouracre, the biathlon coordinator.
Along with the camaraderie of the competitions--there are not many biathletes--he appreciates the fact that biathlon has made him a better Soldier, Studiner said.
"I am a more disciplined, more confident Soldier. I am more comfortable performing tasks while physically exhausted because I've pushed myself further than I thought I could go and still hit the target,"he said.
"The sport is extremely humbling, as well as mentally and physically challenging, which are all the hallmarks of Soldier readiness," Katy Moryl added.