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NEWS | Nov. 15, 2023

State Partnership Program NCO Honored for International Efforts

By Master Sgt. Erick Studenicka, Nevada Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

CARSON CITY, Nev. – When she received an out-of-the-blue invitation to the College of Southern Nevada’s Spotlight of Excellence award ceremony, Nevada Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Hannah Kasner was baffled. She was not enrolled in the college, a faculty member, or even a resident of southern Nevada.

But the request for her presence at the event in late October became clear when Mugunth Vaithylingam, CSN’s chief information and operations officer, awarded Kasner the college’s Synergy Award for her work linking the college and Fiji National University through the Nevada Guard’s State Partnership Program.

Kasner, 27, the State Partnership Program’s operations noncommissioned officer in charge, was the lead SPP official who organized a September SPP engagement of five CSN officials in Fiji to draft and sign an agreement with Fiji National University that teams the two academic institutions for ongoing collaboration.

“The Synergy Award is in recognition of your outstanding partnership and collaboration to assist the College of Southern Nevada in achieving our vision,” Vaithylingam wrote on Kasner’s citation.

Kasner is the first Nevada Guard Airman to receive the award. Maj. Dustin Petersen, Nevada SPP director, said Kasner was the ideal recipient.

“Tech. Sgt. Kasner did a remarkable job of singlehandedly organizing and facilitating the logistics of the first engagement between the College of Southern Nevada and Fiji National University, which included more than 55 key officials from both institutions thousands of miles from Nevada,” Petersen said. “The relationship between the two schools is certain to lead to future business, tourism, environmental and trade school opportunities for the students and faculty at both institutions.”

During the engagement Sept. 21-30, Kasner escorted the five CSN officials to Suva, Fiji, to introduce the Nevadan and Fijian academic officials to each other. The parties got along so well that a memorandum of agreement was signed just four days into the trip at the Fiji National University’s Nasinu Campus. 

The Nevada National Guard is partnered with Fiji, Tonga and Samoa under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.

“In retrospect, it seems we paired the ideal Nevada college with Fiji National University,” Kasner said. “All of the officials got along extremely well and agreed upon the memorandum of snderstanding in an unusually short amount of time. It was evident the university, the college and the Nevada Guard were all in agreement on ways all of the parties can share ideas and programs and be the partner of choice for each other.”

The agreement promises to benefit the faculty and students at both schools via dual admission opportunities, career pathways for Fijian students in their final two years of secondary education, and faculty and student exchanges.

Officials from the schools will finalize many of the proposals in December.

Kasner’s path to becoming a State Partnership Program diplomat included many twists and turns. She spent much of her youth in Fresno, California, before her family moved to Sparks, Nevada. She enlisted in the Nevada Army Guard’s 485th Military Police Company in 2014 and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2016-2017. When the 485th disbanded in 2018, she transferred to the Nevada Air Guard’s 152nd Security Forces.

While working with the security forces, Kasner earned a nursing degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. She remains a registered nurse.

In 2022, while working as a civilian traveling nurse, Kasner learned of the SPP’s need for an operations sergeant and became the operations NCO in December.

Petersen said Kasner’s logistical skills quickly became apparent as she organized the training of five battalions of Fijian soldiers in leadership development early in 2023, with just a few Nevada Guard NCOs supporting the engagements.

Kasner said she had to learn the basics of international affairs quickly after joining the SPP staff.

“It was a lot to take on and learn in just one year,” Kasner said. “In the nursing field, I had taken some cultural competency courses. But it was nothing compared to immersing yourself into the Fijian and Tongan cultures.”