LATHAM, N.Y. – Ten New York Army National Guard Soldiers and Airmen will compete in the South African Military Skills Competition Oct. 21-26.
The five Soldiers and five Airmen will participate in South Africa with representatives of European and African nations. They come from Army and Air Guard units across New York.
The competition involves rifle and pistol shooting, negotiating land and water obstacles, hand grenade throwing and a 4.8 mile run in military uniform. The Americans will be firing the South African R4 rifle and Z88 pistol instead of the weapons they usually use.
Each team consists of four members and a coach.
The New York National Guard has had a training and exchange partnership with the South African National Defence Force since 2003.
The relationship is part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program, which pairs state National Guards with the military forces of other nations to build military relationships.
In 2018, the New York National Guard sent Army National Guard Military Police Soldiers and Air National Guard Security Force Airmen to South Africa. Other exchanges have involved firefighters, general officer visits, and participation in the South African Airshow.
New York National Guard soldiers last competed in the South African Department of Defence Military Skills competition in 2010.
The Soldiers and Airmen were selected to participate in the South African event based on their accomplishments and training.
"I asked for candidates who were physically strong, smart and who could shoot," said Command Sgt. Major David Piwowarski, the top-ranking enlisted Soldier in the New York Army National Guard.
Some of the Soldiers have been to the Army's tough Ranger School, while others excelled in Best Warrior Competitions. Sgt. 1st Class Martin Cozens finished second at the nationwide Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition for 2019.
Command Chief Master Sgt. Maureen Dooley, Piwowarski's Air National Guard counterpart, said the Airmen competing "have excelled in these competitive skills and excel in leadership and whole Airmen concept. They maintain outstanding physical conditioning and are expert marksmen on multiple weapon systems."
Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Maynard, the New York Army National Guard team coach, said he regrets it wasn't practical to get his Soldiers together to train before they leave for South Africa.
They'll also have the disadvantage of having to learn to fire unfamiliar weapons, but all the non-South Africans will probably face the same challenge, he said.
But since each of the Soldiers is a good shot and "capable both mentally and physically," he expects they will make up for the lack of training time.
The Air National Guard members heading for South Africa are also preparing on their own, said Master Sgt. Cole Shebat, the New York Air Guard team coach.
"The guys are staying in shape and they are staying active and they are trying to increase their cardio training," Shebat said.
Potchefstroom, the area where the competition will take place, is almost a mile above sea level, Shebat said, and it is also summer in South Africa so temperatures will be high.
The South African Z88 pistol is very similar to the Beretta M9 pistol American Soldiers and Airmen use, so Shebat said he does not think the team will have a problem adapting to that weapon.
The Guardsmen heading to South Africa are excited to be part of the event, Shebat and Maynard said.
"The opportunity to represent the United States and the New York National Guard overseas is a great honor, and it is not taken lightly," Maynard said.
The New York National Guard participants are:
- Command Sgt. Major Mark Maynard, the Army National Guard team coach, who is a Spencerport resident and is assigned to the 106th Regional Training Institute at Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill;
- Master Sgt. Cole Shebat, the Air National Guard coach, who is a Cicero resident and a member of the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse;
- Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Martin Cozens, a Rochester resident assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, in Geneseo;
- Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Brendon Mavra of Mohegan Lake, who serves with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, in Farmingdale;
- Army National Guard Sgt. Jonathan Patton, a New York City resident who serves in Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, which drills at the Lexington Avenue Armory in Manhattan;
- Army National Guard Sgt. Zachary Rodak, a Peekskill resident assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, at Camp Smith Training Site in Cortlandt Manor;
- Air National Guard Technical Sgt. Thomas Perry, a Trumansburg resident, assigned to the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse;
- Air National Guard Technical Sgt. Martin Allen, a Middle Grove resident, assigned to the 109th Security Forces Squadron at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia;
- Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Joshua Kueritzky, a Kingston resident in the 105th Base Defense Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh;
- Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Justin Murphy of Bergenfield, New Jersey, assigned to the 105th Base Defense Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh.