FORT BENNING, Ga. — It’s official. Soldiers from the U.S. Army National Guard are the best snipers in the world. Four National Guard sniper teams emerged as best contenders in the 2023 International Sniper Competition, and all finished in the top 10, with team 7 placing first.
Thirty-five, three-person sniper teams from around the world participated in the competition at Fort Benning April 8-13.
Team Leader Sgt. 1st Class Erik Vargas of the New Mexico National Guard and Arkansas National Guard Staff Sgts. Benjamin Cotten and Allen Smith of ISC Team 7 secured first place by surpassing 34 other elite sniper teams from other U.S. military branches and the most exceptional sniper teams from Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Estonia, Australia and the United Kingdom.
“Wow! Words cannot express how bad I’ve wanted this and how hard I’ve worked for this accomplishment and now it’s here,” said Vargas. “My teammates Ben Cotten and Allen Smith equally put in the effort so that we can share in this victory. It was a hard-fought match against some of the best snipers in the world.”
“To say a dream came true is an understatement,” Smith said. “Ben Cotten, E.J. Vargas and myself have worked so hard for this opportunity throughout our careers and to come out on top is an absolute blessing. It was a privilege and honor to shoot alongside some of the best snipers around the world. The lessons learned at this competition are something I will remember forever.”
Cotten said he has wanted to win the ISC since completing sniper school.
“I watched the event year after year and noticed the caliber of snipers that competed. I worked as hard as I could and learned as much as I could to be able to compare myself with them,” Cotten said. “Just being able to attend the event was a dream come true.
“Winning was the ultimate validation for not only myself but my team as well. All three of us were equally dedicated to the goal, and I could never have gotten here without them.”
Vargas, a full-time security executive in Las Vegas, was an active-duty member of the 3rd Ranger Battalion before joining the National Guard seven years ago. He has been a sniper for 10 years.
Smith and Cotten are full-time firefighters in Shreveport, Louisiana, and sniper instructors.
“I am fortunate enough to be able to pass these lessons along to students at the school house and help develop the most lethal snipers in the world,” Smith said. “Competitions can be a selfish endeavor, but I would like to encourage everyone who attends matches like this to pass the knowledge along.”
The International Sniper Competition is combat-focused, testing teams’ ability to communicate and make decisions under stress and fatigue.
Teams compete in numerous day and night courses of fire that challenge them physically and mentally.
National Guard Teams:
- Team 7, All Guard — 1st
- Team 31, Utah Army National Guard — 2nd
- Team 9, Army National Guard Warrior Training Center — 5th
- Team 19, Massachusetts National Guard — 8th