One weekend every month, Colorado Springs has the planet's second-deadliest sniper team.
Part-time soldiers Staff Sgt. Micah Fulmer and Spc. Tristan Ivkov of the Colorado National Guard beat most teams from around the globe to take second place this fall at the 18th annual International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga.
Ivkov, who spends his work week as a rancher, says fundamentals led to the trophy finish. "You have to get your wits about you and get calm and get your breathing right," he said.
Ivkov and Fulmer are members of the 1st Battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment. Snipers are prized in the military, thanks to the role they have played in Afghanistan and Iraq, where a single precision shot can take down an enemy without endangering a whole neighborhood with missiles or bombs.
But becoming a sniper means spending long weeks at Benning's sniper school, where troops learn shooting methods, concealment techniques and the slow, patient work it takes to get in position and take a long-range shot.
Ivkov, who joined the Guard in 2015, is a relative newcomer to sniping. Fulmer, who served in the Marines and has been a Guard member since 2012, has worked as his mentor and spotter.
The snipers travel in two-man teams, with the spotter defending the sniper and helping him in the work. It takes much more than lining up crosshairs, Fulmer said.
"The actual shooting is just a fraction of the knowledge and discipline you have to have to be a sniper," said Fulmer, who works in finance in Boulder, Colorado.
The team must gauge atmospheric and wind conditions, which can change a bullet's course in flight. They also must learn to move through terrain unseen to get in the right position.
Ivkov said it's not a game of speed. "It comes down to being consistent and having patience," he said.
To get to the international competition, the pair first had to beat their fellow Guardsmen. Ivkov and Fulmer headed into the Guard competition in April with a handicap, though. Ivkov suffered a knee injury before the match.
"When we showed up at the competition, he could barely walk," Fulmer said.
But he still could shoot. Colorado placed second among the nation's Guard teams, earning the trip to Fort Benning.
The international competition, though, made the Guard contest look easy.
The teams included experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and legendary shooters from U.S. teams, including the Marines and Coast Guard.
The part-timers didn't seem to have a chance. "We weren't even supposed to be there," Fulmer said.
The grinding contest took a toll on the other teams, though, as the Colorado pair proceeded at a steady pace. "It was a total of about 96 hours, and it was very physically demanding and mentally demanding," Ivkov said. "In that 96 hours, we probably slept 10 hours."
The competition included short-range pistol shots and rifle targets at a mile. The Colorado team hit the bull's-eye nearly every time. In taking second, Fulmer also earned an individual honor as the best spotter.
Back in Colorado, the pair has earned a few plaudits for the win. "It's good," Fulmer said. "You get a bunch of pats on the back." The two want what they consider a more valuable prize: more training time at Fort Carson's longest rifle ranges.
"I think Fort Carson ranges are as good as any in the country," Ivkov said. "The biggest problem is getting out there. We're lucky to get on the range more than twice a year." They have supplemented their military training by sport shooting on their own, using the small bit of free time between civilian jobs and Guard drills.
But they have a taste for victory now and plan to return to Benning next year to take on the world's best shots. "We're not going to let up now," Fulmer said. "This is just the beginning."
This article is written by Tom Roeder from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.