POTCHEFSTOOM, South Africa—Fifteen New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, who traveled to South Africa in September for a military skills competition, took home a team second place and some individual awards at the end of the week-long event.
The South African National Defence Force Military Skills Competition, held at a at a South African Army base in Potchefstroom from Sept. 9 to 16, tested competitors’ skills in rifle and pistol marksmanship, land and water obstacle courses, grenade throwing, and a eight kilometer combat run through the rugged landscape.
The event was started by the South African military Reserve Forces Council in 2006 and is open to teams from other nations.
The New York National Guard has competed regularly, because of the State Partnership Program relationship New York has had with South Africa since 2003.
The New York National Guard fielded a male Army Guard team, a male Air Guard team, and a female team of Soldiers and Airmen.
A joint Army and Air Guard male team finished second in the event’s invitational category, competing against teams from South Africa, Germany, Botswana, and Tanzania.
Army Capt. Nick Trentanelli and Spc. Joshua Gonzalez, both assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters; Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Guckian, assigned to Camp Smith Training Site, and Senior Airman Hayden Wagner from the 274th Air Operations Support Squadron, made up the team.
Wagner also took first place in the age 30 and under category, and third place in the overall individual standings.
Air Guard Master Sgt. Jonathan Corcoran, a member of the 109th Airlift Wing took second place in the marksmanship portion of the competition.
And Guckian finished in second place in grenade throwing and third place in the water obstacle.
Air Guard Chief Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, the team captain from the 107th Attack Wing, said that being part of the event was very rewarding.
“It’s a unique experience to travel to another continent and be exposed to different militaries and cultures but to then compete in a variety of military skill tasks is something special,” Stefik said.
“These men and women pushed themselves not just physically, but also emotionally, and I truly feel that they will never forget these experiences,” he said.
South African Army Major David Labuschagne, an intelligence officer in South Africa’s 3rd Parachute Battalion, said he enjoyed competing with the New York National Guard teams.
“The current group of Soldiers and Airmen were very professional, and it was a pleasure to compete against them. They were very competitive, and we liked that,” he said.
The women’s team—of two Airmen and two Soldiers—were very motivated, said Air Guard Major Tiffany Mock, their coach.
“This was a really unique opportunity to showcase our strength as females in a competition since its inception has been primarily for males,” she said.
“I think our woman competed really well, and I hope this sets an example for more women in our formations to get out here and push themselves,” Mock added.
Army Staff Sgt. Keyonta Williams, a recruiter from Brooklyn, said the event had been “amazing”.
It was a great chance to see from of South Africa and experience the culture, and get to know other military people, Williams said.
“Everyone has been helpful giving tips on different techniques for the different events, such as the grenade throwing, since it’s not something we’re typically used to training,” said Williams.
“It’s amazing that we’re able to come here compete but also meet some amazing people who have been but hospitable, welcoming and just created and fostered an environment for us to feel safe and welcome,” she added.
Gonzalez, who competes in Spartan obstacle course traces, said he also enjoyed the comradery.
“Everyone here has so much experience and it’s been great to get their feedback on different events and techniques, and I feel like everyone here is making me a better Soldier,” Gonzalez said.
2023 makes the 20th year since the New York National Guard and the South African National Defence Force began conducting joint training exchanges, under the National Guard State Partnership Program.
The program was originally designed to pair state National Guard with former Soviet bloc militaries. The New York partnership with South Africa was part of the expansion of the program.
Major General Denise Donnell, the commander of the New York Air National Guard and Army Brigadier General Elisabeth Smith, the New York National Guard director of joint staff, were also in South Africa to commemorate the anniversary.
They visited the competitors and got a chance to see them in action.
“Our Soldiers and Airmen represented the strength and diversity of the New York National Guard. I was proud to cheer them on as they finished an 8 kilometer run in full uniform, the last event of the competition,” Donnell said.
She was also happy to be in South Africa to commemorate the partnership with that nation’s military, Donnell said.
“It was an honor to represent Major General Shields, the adjutant general, and celebrate with the men and women of the South African National Defence Force, “she said.