Despite idyllic office location, Bilateral Affairs Officer asserts job is no vacation

 BAO Officer Small

Despite idyllic office location, Bilateral Affairs Officer asserts job is no vacation

By Master Sgt. Erick Studenicka

Joint Force Headquarters

CARSON CITY – 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, distant vacation thousands of miles away from the pressures and stresses of the mainland.

As the representative of Nevada’s State Partnership Program within the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji, Paxton assists the SPP with organizing, coordinating and managing Nevada’s SPP engagements with Fiji and Tonga. He also serves in the role of deputy chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation with the countries of 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 rally 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. (The ‘Blue Pacific’ is 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. 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 U.S. Embassy Suva.

An Engineer branch officer, Paxton is the first to admit he did not envision himself as a diplomat until recently. The longtime Reno resident and graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, joined the Nevada Army Guard in 2008 and 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. That directorate has been extremely busy during the past few years with the construction of the Speedway Readiness Center and the design and construction of the Washoe County Readiness Center expansion, two aircraft storage hangars and multiple small arms ranges across the state.

A set of unusual circumstances in 2021, however, led Paxton to veer away from the usual engineering officer career path and succeed Maj. Michal Riggs as only 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 had a need for equipment distribution and familiarization training on Explosive Ordnance Disposal equipment granted to Fiji by the Department of State; within weeks, Paxton helped organize an international engagement including both 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 a portion of the equipment into the country.

As one would imagine, Paxton has no complaints about the location of his office and the traveling opportunities it affords.

“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 the vast majority of Blue Pacific citizens are supportive of the United States’ ongoing presence in the region: Many remain grateful for the United States’ 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 has one more harsh Nevada winter to endure while working on idyllic Fiji. (Fiji is in the southern hemisphere so it will be Fiji’s summer during Nevada’s winter.) He’ll return to the mainland in March 2024 to a yet-to-be determined position and 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.”