Camp Ethan Allen, VT -- For the first time in more than 20 years, athletes from the New Hampshire National Guard Biathlon Team stood on the podium during the 47th Annual Chief of the National Guard Bureau Biathlon at Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont.
Among them was Staff Sgt. Christopher Parent, an air traffic controller with the 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron. Parent played a key role in setting the NH team apart from the top 30 teams in the country.
“Coming in third was like winning for us,” U.S. Army Maj. Robert Burnham, the NHNG State Biathlon Coordinator, explained. “Without Chris’ participation there is no way we would have placed.”
Parent grew up ski racing in Bangor, Maine. He was one of the few NHNG athletes with specific Nordic racing experience before joining the biathlon team.
“Chris is a multidimensional athlete,” said Burnham. “He can excel at just about anything, so the multisport aspects of biathlon suit him well. However, he's by far a better teammate than he is an athlete. Obviously, his ski coaching during team trials and practices has made us all better, but his character is beyond reproach.”
“He’s the epitome of selfless service,” Burnham added. “He is the first to take on additional responsibilities like maintaining equipment or staying up late before a race to wax a teammate's skis. He’s a graceful skier, a great friend and an exceptional leader on our team.”
Burnham revived the NHNG Biathlon team three years ago and said they are currently one of the smallest in the country. The members were up against programs with extensive history in Nordic skiing, full time athletes with Olympic experience and teams with professional training centers.
“There was a moment after we placed where we were all together as a team and it left me speechless,” Burnham remembered. “I tried to convey the scope of what they accomplished. We hoped to do well but it was so much more than any of us were expecting.”
“Honestly,” he said. “It was one of my proudest moments in my military career.”
The event spanned five days, Feb. 17-22. Each new day held a new race and challenge. The teams competed in individual events combining Nordic skiing and marksmanship as well as a team relay and patrol.
“In each race you ski to a target and shoot in standing and in prone positions,” said Parent. “The patrol was quite different from anything I’ve done and quite fun. You have to ski together and finish within 15 seconds of each other, so you are as fast as your slowest person. It really makes it a team effort. You’re not necessarily pushing yourself to the max, you’re keeping everyone together.”
“My lungs were definitely sore,” he laughed. “It was the team collectively that did a really good job.”
The NH competitors placed right behind racers from Vermont and Minnesota, two of the most decorated biathlon teams in the nation. Parent was one of seven NH Guardsmen, and the only Airman in a field of 150 competitors, who represented the NHNG. They earned third in the team relay, third in the patrol and third overall men’s team.
NHNG athletes, Spc. Tom Echelberger, 2nd Lt. Bryce Murdick, and Parent also placed in the top 20 for their individual races. Echelberger was named to the 2023 All-Guard Team and selected to represent the United States in the World Military Ski Championships in Boden, Sweden.
“I would have loved to see other Air Guard members there,” said Parent. “But overall, you’re working and skiing alongside people from all over the country who are there to compete. I met Guardsmen from the Virgin Islands, soldiers from Nevada, from Colorado, Alaska, hopefuls for the Olympics, from all across the country. It was truly an amazing experience.”
Burnham explained that all competitors benefit equally from having a diverse team with NCO, officer, female, male, Air Force and Army representation.
“When we all participate together it makes us collectively better,” he said. “A little spice brown stitching on Chris’ duty uniform is really the only thing that separates him. When we compete in biathlon our uniform simply reads 'New Hampshire National Guard' and he represents the whole of our organization exceptionally well.”
“One of our biggest future ambitions as a team is to be able to compete as a full team in all races,” Burnham added. “That means three female competitors and five males in events like the relay and patrol. It’s something everyone will benefit from.”
Parent said he was honored to race with his teammates and to represent the NHNG, but he could not have done it without the support of his leadership.
“I thought my ski racing days would be over in high school,” Parent reflected. “Maj. Burnham and Maj. Gen. Mikolaities really pushed for this to be a joint team. I am really appreciative of that, the team and my commander, Lt. Col. Van Splunder, for being so supportive of this awesome opportunity and letting me represent NH.”
“To be able to compete at these amazing venues with olympic-caliber athletes is something I never expected,” he added. “I am grateful for the experience and excited to see how far we can go in the future.”