LATHAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Four New York National Guard Soldiers and one Airman will represent New York and the United States at the South African National Defence Force Military Skills Competition held from October 23 to 30. The event involves an obstacle course, an eight-kilometer run, grenade throwing, a range estimation contest and rifle and pistol shooting with standard South African weapons.

The annual event was last held in 2019 and canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the New York National Guard sent five Soldiers and five Airmen to participate as part of a State Partnership Program relationship with the South African National Defence Force.

This year, because the invitation arrived in late August, New York is only sending five people, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Marc Maynard, the team coach. Maynard also headed the New York team in 2019.

Because the New York Army National Guard has 2,000 Soldiers deployed and the New York Air National Guard is busy too, there were not as many personnel who were able to travel internationally available at short notice, Maynard explained.

Military personnel from around the world are invited to the competition each year, Maynard said. The United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Federal Republic of Germany, and the active Army, all sent teams to the 2019 event.

The New York National Guard has had a State Partnership Program relationship with the South African military since 2003. The program pairs state National Guard with foreign militaries to build military-to-military relationships and interoperability.

While the New York National Guard regularly conducts exchange events with South African military leaders, Soldier-to-Soldier interactions like the military skills event are the real core of the program, said Maj. David Myones, the New York National Guard’s State Partnership Program director. “It fosters the spirit of cooperation at the Soldier level,” Myones said.

New York National Guard leadership felt that participating in this event was important, even though it was harder to field more than one team at short notice this year, Myones said. Brazil, which New York is also partnered with through the State Partnership Program, is participating in this year’s South African military skills event, so that is even more reason to be represented, Myones added.

Because this is a relatively short notice event, the New York National Guard team has not been able to train collectively, he said. The members have instead been working out on their own.

They will get a few days on the ground in Potchefstroom, South Africa-where the contest is held-so they can practice some of the skills, Maynard said. The rifle and pistol shooting events require that foreign competitors use the South African R4 rifle and Z88 pistol. The Z88 is similar to the M9 Baretta pistol Americans use, so that is an advantage, Maynard said.

New York National Guard members participating this year:

  • Army Command Sgt. Maj. Marc Maynard, a Spencerport, New York resident who serves as the command sergeant major of the 53rd Troop Command, which is located at Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill.
  • Army Capt. Jacob Gazaway, a Scotia, New York resident, assigned to the Headquarters Detachment of the 501st Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), based in Glenville.
  • Army 1st Lt. Jimmy Tran, a Montgomery, New York resident who serves in the 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion in Yonkers.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Guckian, a Poughquag, New York resident, assigned to the New York National Guard’s Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill.
  • Air Force Master Sgt. Brandon Gilbert, a resident of Raleigh, North Carolina who serves in the 107th Attack Wing of the New York Air National Guard, based at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

While the New Yorkers would have liked more time to prepare, just being able to be part of the event will be worth it, Maynard said. “Everybody is stoked. It is a good time,” he said. “The South Africans are a great host nation and very welcoming. They always put together a well-organized event.”