ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, April 10, 2008) - It's about time for the Army's big hitters to start swinging for the 2008 Military Long Drive Championship presented by 7UP.

Coast Guard Airman Ryan Hixson won the inaugural event organized by the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command with a drive of 367 yards. He earned $10,000 and a berth in the 2008 RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship in Mesquite, Nev.

"Unbelievable," said Hixson, who prevailed against four other finalists under the lights in Mesquite and more than 650 competitors at 25 qualifying sites. "To have an opportunity to come out here and be treated the way we've been treated, and then to come away with a victory, it's overwhelming."

The finals of the Military Long Drive Championship will be contested on the same grid and weekend as the World Long Drive Championship - in a desert oasis resort town where the best in the business of tape-measure tee shots congregate annually to crown their champions.

The field for the 2008 military finals has been expanded to six competitors who will square off Oct. 23 in Mesquite. The champion will win $10,000 and an exemption into the 2009 RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship, which means another all-expenses-paid trip to Mesquite.

The object is to drive a golf ball as far as possible, but it also must remain in bounds.

"You've got to balance it," Hixson said. "In the finals, I hit one 366 in the grid and was pretty comfortable with that, so I felt like I could just rear back and let it go. Then again, when you swing that way, it's kind of tough to hit the grid."

An extra round of competition has been added to the Military Long Drive Championship this year. The inaugural finalists were determined on paper in 2007 by comparing yardages, which made it virtually impossible to account for the differences in altitude, climate, facilities and weather conditions at various sites.

This year, local winners will advance to four second-round qualifying venues where they will compete for spots in the Military Long Drive Championship at Mesquite. The competition is open to all active-duty service members, Reservists, National Guardsmen, retirees and Family members 18 and older from all services.

Twenty-seven sites currently are set for first-round competitions between July 11 and Aug. 31. Dates and times will be determined by officials at each respective site.

The following installations will host first-round competitions: Fort Dix, N.J.; Fort Lee, Va.; Fort Meade, Md.; Carlisle Barracks, Pa.; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Forts Benning, Gordon and McPherson in Georgia; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Forts Campbell and Knox in Kentucky; Fort Jackson, S.C.; Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Lewis, Wis.; Fort Riley, Kan.; Forts Bliss, Hood and Sam Houston in Texas; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Heidelberg, Stuttgart and Wiesbaden, Germany; and Camps Casey and Yongsan in Korea.

(Tim Hipps serves with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs.)