For a fifth year in a row, the team from the 107th Airlift Wing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station has won The Adjutant General’s (TAG) Match Trophy in a competition last weekend at Camp Smith Training Site in Cortland Manor.
The winning team was led by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Stefik of Lewiston, who is also a state trooper, and included Sgt. Ryan Mang of Niagara Falls, who is a member of the Niagara Falls Police Department; Staff Sgt. Johnathen Wagner of Buffalo; and Tech Sgt. Warren Jones of Rochester, a member of the Rochester Police Department.
The team bested 125 New York Army and Air National Guard members to take the top award.
Stefik has led the winning 107th Airlift team for the past five years in the state competition. He also has competed both nationally and internationally.
He called the match a chance to show off the training that could be used in combat.
“It’s all challenging. You challenge yourself, you challenge your teammates; the environmental factors are a challenge as well,” Stefik said.
He said he also enjoys working with his teams talking about what they have both accomplished and learned.
Participants in modern TAG matches are tested on their ability to fire the M-9 pistol, the M-4 carbine and the M-249 squad automatic weapon, all of which are used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. The match consists of eight timed events using the weapons in close-quarters combat, casualty and nuclear biological chemical drills.
The participants also learn to improve their shooting skills and take those lessons back to their units.
“We’re in a real-world situation, we’ve been at war for over 10 years,” Stefik said from the field. “This isn’t just a competition, it’s a training experience. Coming up to this is just like planning a mission. You’re looking at training. You’re looking at logistics. You’re looking at people. You’re looking at physical fitness. It’s not just standing in a line firing a weapon. ”
He said that by leading his team he gets to know them better and can be a mentor.
“We’re together as a team, and I am learning more about them. As I mentor (a teammate) I am not just learning about him, but I am learning about myself and what a better leader I can be,” Stefik said.
“The biggest thing is taking back the training factors and the camaraderie. Taking back something shiny – that’s nice,” Stefik said about the competition. “But in reality, competing with our friends and fellow Guardsmen – that’s the winner of it ... If that airman or that soldier is trained up and ready to go on his next deployment, and he remembers, ‘Hey if I get engaged by the enemy I remember this, this and this.’ Maybe that saves his life or saves other lives or the lives of civilians.”