New York Army, Air Guardsmen Compete in South African Event Published Oct. 10, 2023 By Staff Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni, New York National Guard POTCHEFSTROOM, South Africa - Fifteen New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen won a team second place and some individual awards in a week-long military skills competition in South Africa. The South African National Defence Force Military Skills Competition, held at a South African Army base in Potchefstroom Sept. 9-16, tested competitors’ skills in rifle and pistol marksmanship, land and water obstacle courses, grenade throwing, and an 8-kilometer combat run in the rugged landscape. The New York National Guard has competed regularly in the event, which the South African Reserve Forces Council began in 2006, 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 invitational category, competing against teams from South Africa, Germany, Botswana and Tanzania. Army Capt. Nick Trentanelli and Spc. Joshua Gonzalez, 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 in the overall individual standings. Air Guard Master Sgt. Jonathan Corcoran, a member of the 109th Airlift Wing, finished second in marksmanship. Guckian finished second in grenade throwing and third in the water obstacle competition. Air Guard Chief Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, the team captain from the 107th Attack Wing, said 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.” South African Army Maj. 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 — two Airmen and two Soldiers —were very motivated, said Air Guard Maj. 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.” Army Staff Sgt. Keyonta Williams, a recruiter from Brooklyn, enjoyed seeing some of South Africa and experiencing the culture. “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. The New York National Guard and the South African National Defence Force have conducted joint training exchanges for 20 years under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. The program originally paired state National Guards with former Soviet bloc militaries. The New York partnership with South Africa was part of the program's expansion.