State Partnership Program NCO’s international efforts recognized by College of Southern Nevada
Partnership Program NCO’s international efforts recognized by College of
Master Sgt. Erick Studenicka
CARSON CITY – When she received an
out-of-the-blue invitation to the College of Southern Nevada’s Spotlight of
Excellence award ceremony last month, Nevada Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Hannah Kasner
was baffled. She was not enrolled in Nevada’s largest college or a member of
the faculty 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 of Southern Nevada and Fiji National
University through the Nevada Guard’s State Partnership Program.
Kasner, 27, of Reno, the
State Partnership Program’s Operations Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge, was
the lead SPP official who organized a September SPP engagement that saw five CSN
officials travel to Fiji to draft – and quickly sign – a memorandum of
agreement with Fiji National University that teams the two academic
institutions in future years for ongoing collaborations and engagements.
“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 is the first Nevada
Guard Airmen to receive the Synergy Award. State Partnership Program director
Maj. Dustin Petersen said Kasner was the ideal recipient for the award.
“Tech. Sgt. Kasner did a
remarkable job of single-handedly 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 five CSN officials to Suva, Fiji, on a “Meet and Greet”
mission 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. Fiji
is one of the three countries the Nevada Guard is partnered with under the
auspice of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program: Tonga and Samoa are
the other two.
“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 Understanding 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
The MOU promises to lead to
myriad opportunities for the faculty and students at both schools including: dual
admission opportunities; career pathway opportunities for Fijian students in
their final two years of secondary education; and faculty and student exchanges.
A future engagement
including CSN and FNU officials set for December will finalize many of the
proposals from September’s meetings.
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, where she graduated from Spanish Springs High in 2014. That same year,
she enlisted in the Nevada Army Guard’s 485th Military Police Company and
became a military policewoman and eventually deployed with the unit to Kuwait
and Iraq on its 2016-2017 international mission. She transferred to the Nevada
Air Guard’s 152nd Security Forces in 2018 when the 485th disbanded.
While working with the
security forces, Kasner studied nursing at the University of Nevada, Reno. She
graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing in 2020 and remains a
While working as a civilian
traveling nurse in 2022, Kasner learned of the SPP’s need for an operations
sergeant from her security forces commander, Lt. Col. Robert Kolvet. She
succeeded Sgt. 1st Class Talia Whittle as the SPP’s operations NCO in December
2022 when Whittle joined the 17th Sustainment Brigade staff.
As the SPP operations NCO,
Kasner is responsible for pre-engagement documentation and travel of engagement
participants, country clearances and anti-terrorism training; during
engagements, Kasner focuses on providing prespecified training, usually NCO
professional development in Fiji and human resources and
administrative-function training in Tonga.
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 handful of Nevada Guard NCOs supporting the engagements.
Kasner said she had to learn
the basics of international affairs quickly after joining the State Partnership
Program staff but she was up for the challenge.
“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.”
Kasner said her unique
combination of occupational interests reflects the influence of her parents on
Her stepfather, Matt Birlem,
was both an artilleryman and military policeman in the Army and supported
Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-2004 before becoming a Department of Defense
contractor. Her mother,
Kathy Birlem, was a paramedic in Fresno during Kasner’s childhood.
“I am a blend of both of my parents’
occupations with a background in both law enforcement and the medical field,”
Kasner said. “I have always wanted to impact the lives of others in a
meaningful way and being in law enforcement and working as a registered nurse allows
me to pursue my overarching life goals.”
Kasner said her mother died due to suicide
last winter and that event will likely steer her future career path once her
stint on the State Partnership Program staff concludes.
“With my mom’s death in mind, I hope to be
an advocate in nursing and the law enforcement communities in the future about
the importance of mental health, resiliency and counseling for those who are
struggling with mental health difficulties or experiencing mental health crises,”