White Rectangle

State Partnership Program NCO’s international efforts recognized by College of Southern Nevada

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Erick Studenicka
  • 152nd Airlift Wing

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’s citation.

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 each other.”

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 registered nurse.

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 life.

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,” Kasner said.