15 soldiers & airmen will take part in South African Military Skills Competition
Fifteen New York National Guard soldiers and airmen are headed to the Republic of South Africa on Friday, Sept. 8, to compete in the South African National Defence Force Military Skills Competition.
The New York National Guard has fielded teams in this competition before, but this year an all-woman team of Army and Air National Guard members will participate as well.
The women will compete against female teams from other nations.
The team includes six Army Guard Soldiers and nine Air Guard members. The competitors come from the 107th Attack Wing in Niagara Falls, the 109th Airlift Wing from Scotia, and the Army Guard's 42nd Infantry Division headquarters in Troy, and the 53rd Troop command near Peakskill.
The event, which runs from Sept. 9-16 and is held at a South African Army base in Potchefstroom in South Africa's Northwest Province, is sponsored by the South African military's Reserve Forces Council.
The participants are judged on rifle and pistol marksmanship, an 8-kilometer run, a land obstacle course, a water obstacle course, and grenade throwing.
"I did it last year and it was an amazing time," said Army Guard Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Guckian, a human resources specialist assigned to Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill and a Poughquag resident.
Along with the all-woman, joint service team, the New York National Guard is sending an Army National Guard and an Air National Guard team to compete. Each team consists of five personnel, a coach and four participants.
In the past, as many as 21 nations have sent teams of reserve soldiers to compete, but the pandemic shut down the event for two years, and only four national teams – including Guckian and four other New Yorkers – showed in 2022.
This year, it's expected the event will see more international competitors again, said Air Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, who is serving as team leader.
Stefik, who serves as the senior enlisted leader for the 107th Attack Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, took a second-place finish during the 2014 competition.
His task, since the contingent was identified in June, has been to pull together a group of Army and Air Guard men and women who live and drill across the state, Stefik said.
Fortunately, everybody identified to be part of the New York National Guard team are disciplined, self-starters who can prepare for the physical challenges on their own, Stefik said.
"What is unique about the Guard, between both the Army and the Air, is when you are training on your own and staying professional and physically fit, you can put us in the game anywhere and we can succeed," he said.
The group, he emphasized, has a lot of diversity – men, women, airmen, soldiers – and they come from across the state.
"We represent not just the Army and Air Force, we represent the makeup of New York," Stefik said.
The New Yorkers will have three or four days before the competition to practice on all the competitions.
This is very important because Potchefstroom is 4,396 feet above sea level. People who live in Buffalo, and New York City, need some time to acclimatize, according to Guckian.
The Americans will also have a chance to fire the South African R-4 rifle and their issue pistol ahead of the competition. The R-4 is slimmer than an M-16 A2 or M-4, but the pistol is similar to the M-9 Barretta NATO forces use.
The swimming obstacle course involves going under and over water obstacles in a pool as fast as possible.
The New York National Guard has been competing regularly in this event since signing a training partnership agreement with the South African National Defence Force in 2003 as part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
Taking part in the skills competition are:
•Army Male Team
Coach: New York Air National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, a Lewiston resident and a member of the 107th Attack Wing
√ Lt. Col. Andy Miller, a Clinton resident and a member of the 53rd Troop Command headquarters
√ Capt. Nick Trentarelli, a Corning resident and a member of the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters
√ Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Guckian, a Poughquag resident assigned to Camp Smith Training.
√ SPC Josh Gonzalez, an Amsterdam resident assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters.
•Air Force Male Team
Coach: Master Sgt. Zachary Villano, a Clifton Park resident and member of the 109th Airlift Wing
√ Master Sgt. Jonathan Corcoran, a Slingerlands resident and member of the 109th Airlift Wing
√ Senior Airman Hayden Wagner, a member of the 274th Air Operations Support Squadron who lives in Vacaville, California
√ Senior Airman Kyle Spriggs, an Albany resident and a member of the 109th Airlift Wing
√ Airman 1st Class Trek Bjelica, a Mayfield resident and member of the 109th Airlift Wing
•Women's Team/ Army and Air Guard
Coach: Air Guard Maj. Tiffany Mock, a North Tonawanda resident and member of the 107th Airlift Wing
√ Air Guard Staff Sgt. Morgan DiBernardo, a North Tonawanda resident and a member of the 107th Airlift Wing
√ Army Guard Staff Sgt. Keyontae Williams, a Queens resident assigned to the Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion
√ Army Guard Sgt. Quian Han, a Manhattan resident assigned to Joint Forces Headquarters
√ Airman 1st Class Vincenza Costanzo, a North Tonawanda resident assigned to the 107th Airlift Wing