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NEWS | Sept. 5, 2023

Red Dragon shooters compete in Finnish sniper championship

By Mike Vrabel Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Three Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team competed in HÄYHÄ 2023, a Finnish Sniper Championship, held Aug. 25-27, near Taipalsaari, Finland. 

Staff Sgt. Matthew Dawson, Staff Sgt. Joshua Johnson and Sgt. Gavin Asbury made up one of 26 teams to compete in the competition, which focused on the basic skills of a sniper. The event was organized by the Finnish Sniper Guild in cooperation with the Finnish Reserve Sports Association and the National Defense Training Association.

The three-day event consisted of 26 stages designed to test all aspects of sniper craft. The events were broken up into shooting events and task events. Task events included land navigation, Tactical Combat Casualty Care, selecting a firing position, minefield negotiation, call for fire and signals protocol. 

The majority of the events were shooting events, and challenged the participating teams in a variety of ways. Moving targets and low-light environments provided basic marksmanship challenges, while teams also had to show proficiency in shooting from a moving platform, counter sniping, long-range shooting and shooting with an unfamiliar weapon. 

The Red Dragon team ended up finishing 19th out of 26 teams, while another U.S. Army team from the 10th Mountain Division placed 11th. 

“I believe our team was uniquely positioned to do well for this competition, at least in the ways of team cohesion,” sad Johnson. “Two members of the team attended U.S. Army Sniper School in Arkansas together in 2017 and have worked together ever since. The third member was groomed and chosen by the current snipers already in the section. All three snipers were able to expand upon their skill on a recent deployment to the Horn of Africa. Each sniper was pushed to a different country between Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti. These three different experiences coming together allowed the team to have different vantage points of their craft and apply them to the competition.”

Despite their vast experience, the VNG team did encounter some unique difficulties competing in a foreign country. 

“One of the most difficult things about the competition was how we translated some of the rules of the lanes we competed in,” Johnson explained. “Our team had a collective of over 30 years of experience in the United States military. This gave us a predisposition to interpret some of the rules in more of an American military fashion, meaning less than more nuance and ambiguity. The competition was intentionally made this way, and some of the damage had already been done. We scored few points if any in these lanes. Looking back at it, having more of an open mind and taking our time would have allowed us to see the forest for the trees and potentially given us a better position.”

Despite those challenges, Johnson said the entire trip was a terrific experience. 

“The entire trip was a blast and a great exposure to the culture,” Johnson said. “I am eager to either visit on my own time or compete in the competition in the future. I am extremely proud of my team. I feel that we capitalized on our strengths. We used ingenuity, creativeness, and experience to get us through the three days. 

“I understand how cliche this sounds but, the best part of the competition was just the exposure to the culture,” Johnson added. “We had a great time cutting up with the Finns while we were not competing in the lanes. One team we befriended so much that even after a long competition weekend we still made it to the local bar for dinner and drinks. The competitors were easy going, and quite friendly.”

The Virginia National Guard enjoys an enduring relationship with Finland that includes military training exchanges between Finnish Defense Forces and VNG Soldiers and Airmen.

Finnish troops served with Virginia’s 29th Infantry Division during the Stabilization Force 10 rotation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2001-2002, sparking enduring friendships, and VNG personnel have trained shoulder-to-shoulder with their Finnish counterparts for many years, building deep professional and personal bonds.

In recent years, Soldiers and Airmen conducted cyber training with their Finnish counterparts, competed in a Finnish sniper competition, and learned from Finland’s expertise operating and thriving in Arctic conditions, among other exchanges. VNG Army and Air cyber warriors were also went to Finland to take part in the Elements of Cyber exercise.

Finland and the United States have a shared commitment to peace and stability, and security cooperation efforts have broadened over almost 30 years. National Guard leaders believe they will only be strengthened in the years ahead.

Read more about the VNG’s partnership with Finland at

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