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Even without snow biathlete will go

Staff Sgt. Ersnt Visscher, 120th Airlift Wing crew chief, poses in front of a C-130 Hercules for a photo with his biathlon skis, poles and rifle April 3, 2014. Visscher is the longest serving member of the Montana National Guard Biathlon team and only member who serves as a member of the Montana Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Staff Sgt. Lindsey Soulsby)

Staff Sgt. Ersnt Visscher, 120th Airlift Wing crew chief, poses in front of a C-130 Hercules for a photo with his biathlon skis, poles and rifle April 3, 2014. Visscher is the longest serving member of the Montana National Guard Biathlon team and only member who serves as a member of the Montana Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Staff Sgt. Lindsey Soulsby)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Staff Sgt. Ernst Visscher, a 120th Airlift Wing crew chief journeyman and the only Air National Guard member of the Montana National Guard Biathlon team, competed in the 41st Annual National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships February 26 to March 4 at the biathlon course at Camp Ripley, Minn.

Visscher, a member of the biathlon team since 2003 and longest serving member on the roster, placed 17th in the 10K race.

"Montana generally is one of the top four states in the western region races," said Sgt. 1st Class Bob Evans, Montana National Guard Biathlon coach. "We've been going through a rebuilding phase the last couple of years though, due to losing some athletes to other states, deployments, and retirements."

"(The biathlon) is guaranteed to challenge you consistently, physically, mentally and emotionally," Visscher said.

Members bring their body, mind and heart to the sport and the National Guard provides the rest.

"This is an Olympic development sport," Visscher said. "The National Guard has produced more Olympic biathletes than the United States biathlon program."

In the early years, Visscher trained hard and competed internationally multiple times in Germany, Chile and Spain.

A biathlete can progress from the regional team, to the national team that competes internationally, to even an Olympic level.

Priorities have shifted for the guardsman as he is now focusing on his on-the-job training as a C-130 Hercules crew chief instead of honing his skills to be an Olympic biathlete, Visscher said.

Changes are happening in his professional and personal life, but the culture of the biathlon stays consistent.

"The biggest thing is comradery," Visscher said. "I get to see the same guys year after year, it's great. Last year was the first year that I'd missed in a decade and everyone asked where I was."

Competition or friendships, whatever the reason, the Montana National Guard Biathlon team is looking for new recruits for the 2017 team.

Interested members of the Montana National Guard are encouraged to email Evans at robert.m.evans7.mil@mail.mil or Capt. Michelle Bogden, who also serves a biathlon team coach, at michelle.a.bogden.mil@mail.mil.
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