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Ladies first: all-female team represents United States at CIOR military competition.

Three female Reservists competed in an international competition in Sofia, Republic of Bulgaria, Aug. 2-8 and came out victorious.

Lt. Col. Elizabeth Blanchford, Maj. Melissa Tallent and Senior Airman Andrea Uchiyama won gold in the tactical combat casualty competition at the 68th annual Congress of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers military competition.

This marked the first time since 2005 that the United States had sent an all-female team to the CIOR military competition.

The CIOR represents approximately 1 million reservists from 36 nations worldwide. The organization meets twice a year, in the summer and winter, and works through committees that examine issues and provide analysis relating to reserve forces.

Several events took place during this summer's congress to include a welcome reception, military competitions and a closing dinner.

"We had a big ceremony that [first] evening; we marched from the base to the courthouse downtown," said Blanchford, who is assigned to the 953rd Reserve Support Squadron, Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia, and is currently serving a one-year tour of duty in United States European Command. "Teams marched behind their national flags. There were speeches by local dignitaries, and a traditional Bulgarian dance was performed. It was the first time we all got to meet each other and mingle."

The first military competition consisted of a pentathlon, which included rifle and pistol marksmanship, land and water obstacle courses, grenade throwing, and land navigation. Day one of the pentathlon tested the Reservists' ability to shoot with speed and accuracy.

"The way it works is you shoot the host nation's weapon of choice, which for Bulgaria was the AK-47," Blanchford said. "My teammates and I had never shot this weapon before, so we had to get up to speed pretty quickly."

The host nation also gets to decide the shooting method. The competitors had 10 seconds in the prone position to get five rounds on target at 200 meters, 15 seconds kneeling and 20 seconds standing.

On day two the teams finished up the shooting portion of the competition and then moved onto grenades in the afternoon. Team members finished their day with the water obstacle course.

"I wouldn't consider myself a great swimmer," said Uchiyama, a member of the 56th Aerial Port Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, California. "However, Major Tallent (who is assigned to United States Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii) is a triathlete and a swim instructor, so it worked out really well for us. I can truly say I became a better swimmer in two weeks."

Day three consisted of a land obstacle course that was two kilometers and had five different obstacles. Day four, which was the final day of the pentathlon, proved to be a bit of a challenge for the U.S. female team.

"The final day was the orienteering course, which was approximately 13 kilometers with close to 30 different control points," Blanchford said. "A lot of European nations train in orienteering from childhood; it's a very common sport for them, but not so much in the U.S."

The U.S. team was not the only one that struggled with the orienteering course.

"We ran into one of the South African teams in the woods, and they were having some challenges," Blanchford said. "So we spent close to an hour together orienteering our way out. In the end both teams were really thankful to have found each other."

Despite the challenges the women's team had with shooting and orienteering, they came together one last time for the tactical combat casualty competition and blew everyone away.

"We knew we didn't place in the pentathlon events, so the TCCC was the last push to bring something home," Uchiyama said.

The U.S. team placed first out of 26 teams.

"It was so exciting to be able to go up on the podium and get the gold for the U.S. in some capacity," Blanchford said. "We were really thrilled to be able to do that as a ladies team our first year out."

Blanchford, Tallent and Uchiyama received their award at a formal dinner on the last day of their trip. All the participating nations came together one last time to recognize the winners and say good-bye to their fellow international competitors.

"I never would have thought I could say I am now friends with a German tunnel engineer, a professional French boxer, a British Marine and so many more amazing people," Uchiyama said.

More than 250 athletes participate in CIOR's military competition each year. Established in 1957, it is an internationally recognized event that is focused on military skills that truly challenge the leadership and physical robustness of reservists from across NATO and its partners.

"The CIOR program is quite possibly the most underrated military opportunity available," Uchiyama said. "The training, the intensity, the camaraderie and the friendships are unlike anything I've ever experienced. The opportunity to travel and represent the U.S. is a privilege I am lucky to have earned."

Both Blanchford and Uchiyama expressed their passion for the opportunity they received to represent the United States and want to encourage fellow Reservists from all branches of the military to apply for next year's competition.

"This year was an all Air Force team, but really it should be a joint team; we want all of the services to be represented," Blanchford said. "It is important to get interest now because it really does take a year to build the specific skill set needed for this kind of competition."

"The CIOR Team USA is open to all members and branches of the U.S. reserve components, and both enlisted and officers are welcome to apply," Uchiyama said. "I urge each and every person to make the most of their career and take advantage of this wonderful opportunity."

Complete information, including a training manual as well as descriptions and videos of the events, is available online at

(Retired Air Force Reserve Col. Chuck Ferguson, a former CIOR competitor who now coaches orienteering at the U.S. training camp, contributed to this article.)

By Staff Sgt. Sarah Hanson
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Author:Hanson, Sarah
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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