FORT BENNING, Ga – Two natives of the Natural State earned top marks in an international sniper competition.

A team of Army National Guardsmen comprised of Arkansas National Guard Staff Sgts. Benjamin Cotten, Allen Smith and their team leader Sgt. 1st Class Erik Vargas of the New Mexico National Guard won 1st place in the 2023 International Sniper Competition (ISC).

The competition pitted 35 three-person sniper teams from different U.S. military branches and international militaries against each other to see who the best team of sharpshooters was. It tested the teams’ ability to communicate and make decisions under stress and fatigue.

Smith and Cotten are full-time firefighters in Shreveport, Louisiana, and sniper instructors. 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.”

“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.”

Vargas is a full-time security executive in Las Vegas and 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.

“Wow! Words cannot express how bad I’ve wanted this and how hard I’ve worked for this accomplishment and now it’s here,” Vargas said. “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.”

Three other National Guard sniper teams placed in the top 10.