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NEWS | Oct. 26, 2023

Nevada Guardsman Plays Key Partnership Role in South Pacific

By Master Sgt. Erick Studenicka, Joint Force Headquarters, Nevada National Guard

CARSON CITY, Nev. – Nearly two years into his role as the Nevada Guard’s bilateral affairs officer based in the picturesque South Pacific island nation of Fiji, Maj. David Paxton emphatically dismisses the notion his job is an extended vacation thousands of miles from the pressures and stresses of the mainland.

As the representative of Nevada’s State Partnership Program in the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, Paxton helps organize, coordinate and manage Nevada’s SPP engagements with Fiji and Tonga. He is also deputy chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation with Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu. (Nevada’s third partner country in the SPP, Samoa, falls under the oversight of the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.)

Those jobs leave little time for tourism, Paxton said recently while in Nevada for a series of meetings.

“It’s not as romantic as one might imagine. The resorts are not far away, but there is little time to venture there,” Paxton said. “The tempo of engagements has really ramped up in the post-Covid era, and the region is one of the most visible in the world as nations vie for influence in the Blue Pacific (a diplomatic term that encompasses the Pacific Ocean-island nations and their collective interests.)

“The job itself hasn’t been romantic, but it’s been rewarding to be in a position where I am a part of a team that can influence global relationships on behalf of the United States,” he said. “I did not know much about international affairs and diplomacy before becoming the bilateral affairs officer, but now I know how much the State Partnership Program really matters on the geopolitical scale.”

Paxton, 36, of Reno, will reside in Suva until his international tour concludes next year. He lives just a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy in Suva.

An engineer branch officer, Paxton joined the Nevada Army Guard in 2008 and was commissioned as an officer in 2009. After his 2016 deployment to Iraq and Kuwait with the 17th Sustainment Brigade as its battle captain, he became the commander of the 240th Vertical Construction Company. His most recent military assignment was as the personnel officer for the 421st Regional Training Institute.

For his full-time employment, Paxton was the facility and construction master planner for the Nevada Army Guard’s Directorate of Installations and Environment. 

In 2021, Paxton veered from the engineering officer career path to succeed Maj. Michal Riggs as the second bilateral affairs officer in Nevada Guard history.

Paxton said it’s his job to share information between the embassy and the Nevada National Guard that might otherwise go unknown by both parties. For example, Fiji recently needed equipment distribution and familiarization training on explosive ordnance disposal equipment the Department of State granted to Fiji. Within weeks, Paxton helped organize an international engagement including Fijian Soldiers and Soldiers in the Nevada Army Guard’s 3665th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company. The SPP-coordinated team even acted as couriers on behalf of the Department of State to get some of the equipment into the country.

Paxton has no complaints about the location of his office and the traveling opportunities.

“The geographic region and climate are completely opposite Nevada’s,” Paxton said. “It has been amazing to have nearby access to other countries and get out and do different activities.”

Paxton said most Blue Pacific citizens support the U.S. presence in the region. Many remain grateful for the U.S. defense of the Pacific during World War II.

“The most important thing I can do in my position is maintain the existing relationships that have been established with our partners and further develop new, positive relationships,” Paxton said.

Paxton will return to the mainland in March to a yet-to-be-determined position. Renowned aviator Maj. Zackary Taylor-Warren will become the Nevada Guard’s third BAO.

“The job of bilateral affairs officer has been the most impactful and diversely challenging experience of my military career,” Paxton said. “The learning curve was enormous, but I can now say I know at least a little about how the U.S. conducts international diplomacy — it definitely differs from what we see on television.”



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