NY Guardsmen off to South Africa for Military Competition Published Sept. 5, 2023 By Eric Durr, New York National Guard NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. - Fifteen New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen will compete in the South African National Defence Force Military Skills Competition this month. The New York National Guard has fielded teams in this competition before, but an all-woman squad will also participate this year, competing against female teams from other nations. Participants in the Sept 9-16 event will be judged on rifle and pistol marksmanship, an 8-kilometer run, land and water obstacle courses, and grenade throwing. The competition, sponsored by the South African military’s Reserve Forces Council, will take place at a South African Army base in Potchefstroom. “I did it last year and it was an amazing time,” said Army Guard Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Guckian, a human resources specialist who will compete again this year. Guckian has been sharing what he learned last year with his fellow 14 New York competitors. 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 includes a coach and four participants. Air Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, team leader and coach for the Army team, said all the New York competitors are disciplined self-starters. “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. Air Guard Maj. Tiffany Mock, the coach for the women’s team, said the four women — two from the Air Guard and two from the Army Guard — are motivated and ready to compete. “I think there is a lot of pressure on the females,” said Air Guard Staff Sgt. Morgan Dibernardo, a member of the 107th Attack Wing. “Personally, I am very nervous but super excited.” Army Sgt. Keyonta Williams, a recruiter from New York City, said she expects to do best on the obstacle course because she works hard to stay fit. “We can compete at the highest level,” she said. The New Yorkers will have three or four days before the competition to practice and acclimate to Potchefstroom’s altitude, 4,396 feet above sea level. It’s also a chance to get used to the South African R-4 rifle and their issue pistol, Guckian said, noting that the R-4 is slimmer than an M-16, A2 or M-4 but similar to the M-9 Beretta. The swimming pool obstacle course is also challenging, Guckian said. The women’s team might have an edge, Stefik said, because Airman 1st Class Vincenza Costanzo, a member of the 107th Attack Wing, was a swimming champion in high school and college. The New York National Guard has competed regularly in this event since signing a training partnership agreement with the South African National Defence Force in 2003 as part of the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.