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Connecting Skies Bridging Continents


NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. – In an exciting endeavour, fifteen soldiers and airmen from the New York National Guard are set to take part in the South African National Defence Force Military Skills Competition this month.

While the New York National Guard has been a consistent presence in this competition in the past, this year marks a significant development as an all-female squad joins the ranks, prepared to challenge female teams from other nations.

The competition, scheduled from September 9th to 16th, will encompass a series of rigorous assessments, including rifle and pistol marksmanship, an 8-kilometer run, land and water obstacle courses, and grenade throwing. This esteemed event, sponsored by the South African military’s Reserve Forces Council, will unfold at a South African Army base situated in Potchefstroom.

Army Guard Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Guckian, a human resources specialist, who will be competing once again this year, shared his enthusiasm, stating, “I did it last year, and it was an amazing experience.” He has been diligently passing on his knowledge from last year to his fellow 14 New York competitors.

In addition to the all-female joint-service team, the New York National Guard is dispatching both an Army National Guard and an Air National Guard team to participate. Each team consists of a coach and four participants.

Air Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, who serves as the team leader and coach for the Army team, highlighted the disciplined and self-motivated nature of all the New York competitors. He emphasized, “What is unique about the Guard, between both the Army and the Air, is that when you are training independently, maintaining professionalism, and staying physically fit, you can put us in the game anywhere, and we can excel.”

Air Guard Maj. Tiffany Mock, the coach for the women’s team, expressed confidence in her team, which comprises two members from the Air Guard and two from the Army Guard, stating, “I believe there is a lot of pressure on the females.” Air Guard Staff Sgt. Morgan Dibernardo, a member of the 107th Attack Wing, admitted to nervous excitement, remarking, “Personally, I am very nervous but super excited.”

Army Sgt. Keyonta Williams, a recruiter from New York City, highlighted her strength on the obstacle course, attributing it to her rigorous fitness routine. She confidently asserted, “We can compete at the highest level.”

Before the competition begins, the New Yorkers will have three to four days to practice and adapt to the altitude of Potchefstroom, which sits at an elevation of 4,396 feet above sea level. This period will also allow them to familiarize themselves with the South African R-4 rifle and their issued pistols. Guckian noted that the R-4 is slimmer than an M-16, A2, or M-4 but comparable to the M-9 Beretta.

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