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Saturday, March 1, 2014
Ten members of the New York Army and Air National Guard — including one from Lockport — will represent the United States at a marksmanship competition in South African next week.

Five members of the New York Army National Guard's 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry — who train in Buffalo and Niagara Falls — and five members of the New York Air National Guard from across the state, will spend half of March in Bloemfontein, South Africa participating in the South African Army Combat Rifle Competition.

Army National Guard 1st Lt. Roberts Wesley of Lockport is among those representing the United States against teams from other African and North Atlantic Treaty Organization militaries in the event along with Active Duty and Reserve component forces of the South African National Defense Force.

The New York National Guard has a training and exchange partnership with the South African National Defense Force through the National Guard's State Partnership Program. The program pairs state National Guard's with militaries in eastern Europe and the developing world. New York and South Africa have been partnered since 2003.

"We are proud that Soldiers and Airmen of the New York National Guard will be representing the United States military at this international marksmanship competition," said Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York.

"The New York National Guard has a great relationship with the South African National Defense Force which we've built through repeated visits and training exchanges like this one over the past decade. I know our Soldiers and Airmen will do a great job of representing New York and the United States and strengthen our relationship even more," Murphy said.

New York Army National Guard 1st Lt. Thomas Beach, the team captain, said he and the other Guard members are looking forward to the opportunity to meet service members from South Africa and the other participating nations.

"We are excited and everybody is looking forward to training with other militaries," he said.

Air National Gyard Senior Master Sgt. Edward Stefik, a New York State Trooper in civilian life and a member of the 107th Security Forces Squadron at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, is the team manager. He is an experienced marksman who has competed in the annual National Guard shooting competition and won the New York National Guard's annual marksmanship competition.

Participants in the shooting match use the South African R-4 Rifle. The weapon fires a 5.56 millimeter round similar to that fired by the American M-4. However, the American shooters will need to get used to a different sighting system and different feel of the South African rifle, Stefik said.

The bullet also uses a different grain of powder which will influence the trajectory of the round, added Beach. This means the Americans will have to get used to that as well, he said.

"We are going to have a week of prep time before we compete so we will get a chance to train on that style of weapon," Stefik said.

The 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry Soldiers have been preparing for the event by training on an electronic marksmanship trainer, Beach said. One member of the Army team is trained as a sniper while others have basic weapons training.

The Air Guard members-who are stationed at the Air National Guard Bases in Westhampton Beach, Newburgh, Scotia, and Syracuse, are all experienced marksmen, Stefik said.

This is the second time a New York National Guard Team has participated in this competition. An eight-Soldier New York National Guard team finished in fourth place during the 2011 competition.

In addition to Wesley, members participating in the event are Army National Guard 1st Lt. Thomas Beach of Buffalo, Army National Guard 1st Lt. Sean Lucas of Buffalo, Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hare of Tonawanda, Army National Guard Sgt. Ryan Campbell of Cheektowaga, Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Edward Stefik of Lewiston, Air National Guard Master Sgt. Jose Pena-Rojas of Mount Kisko, Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Kevin Weatherby of Cohoes, Air National Guard Airman 1st Class Matthew Rossen of Fabius, and And Air National Guard Staff Sgt, Matthew Zimmer of Westhampton.

The event begins Tuesday and runs through March 15.

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