Army Guard’s Cyber Warriors Protect State and Nation

Much like the Army National Guard has a dual mission to respond to State emergencies and overseas combat missions to support the Nation, the Florida Army Guard’s Defensive Cyberspace Operations Element (DCO-E) works to protect both the Sunshine State and the Nation from cyberattacks. 

As a 255A Information Services Technician for the Florida Army Guard, Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Tripp Thompson is assigned to the DCO-E, which is considered a State asset that can also be activated to assist with a national mission. 

Most recently, his group provided cyber support for the State during the national elections in 2016.

“We weren’t the people with our hands on the keyboards, he explains. “We were the ones who would look at things like the network architecture, look at some of the security controls and provide advice.”

The DCO-E has also done joint training exercises with the State of Florida to help employees become more aware of cyber threats and ways to protect themselves.

On the Federal side, CW2 Thompson’s team was on-site in Washington, D.C., in January to support cybersecurity elements during the Presidential Inauguration.

CW2 Thompson likes the challenge of his Guard Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

“I like the technical nature of the work,” he says. “It makes me think.”

CW2 Tripp Thompson

It also aligns with his educational background in computer science and engineering, and his civilian career as a consultant in the information technology field.

But in his 30 years of part-time service in the Guard, CW2 Thompson has worn many different hats. Before his current MOS, he was a logistics officer, an information assurance officer, and a medical service corps officer.

He was already in college when he joined as a way to help pay for school, starting his Guard career as a forward observer in field artillery. He later joined ROTC, which is an elective that allows students to commission straight out of college as a second lieutenant. Even after rising through the ranks to become a major, he essentially took a step backward rank-wise and became a warrant officer in the Guard to avoid mandatory retirement.

“I enjoy what I do, and that just gave me an option to stay longer if I wanted,” he says.

Warrant officers are considered the Guard’s technical and tactical experts, as opposed to an officer like a major or lieutenant who may work in different fields.

“Officers have more of a well-rounded background, whereas warrant officers pretty much find an area and dig in deeply to become more of an SME, or subject matter expert,” says CW2 Thompson.

And for anyone considering getting into the cyber field in the Guard, be assured the Guard does not expect Soldiers to be experts when they join.

“If you’ve got basic computer skills, if you’ve got any programming or scripting skills, and just a general knowledge of networking, we can leverage that, and give you additional training to get you to where you need to be,” says CW2 Thompson.

Some of that training will include industry-specific certifications like Security+ or Certified Ethical Hacker.

Keeping up to speed in the cyber world does mean a “fair amount” of trainings, according to CW2 Thompson, who was headed off to a 2-week cyber exercise consisting of a week of training and a week of defending against simulated cyberattacks.

For an example of what a cybersecurity competition looks like, check out the video below. The Florida Guard’s DCO-E was one of the teams participating in this event, held last year. CW2 Thompson can be seen providing assistance at about the 5-second mark.

 

The DCO-E also has its own “cyber range,” where the Guard can run attacks in a controlled environment and respond to them.

So if you’re interested in becoming a cyber warrior, or are thinking about a career in a different field, the Army National Guard offers more than 150 choices. Visit our job board to search careers by keyword, category or location. And for personal advice, contact your local recruiter, who can also explain the benefits of service like money for college or vocational school

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Always Ready, Always There Reflects Guard’s Ability to Change with Times

An organization that is actually older than the country it serves could not have survived for nearly 380 years without being able to change with the times.

The Army National Guard, which will celebrate this milestone birthday on Dec. 13, continues to live up to its motto of “Always Ready, Always There” by adding new areas of focus and new career opportunities that reflect national trends. We at On Your Guard thought we’d take a look back at new initiatives and changes that got under way over the course of the past year.

Because cybersecurity is a top concern for anyone who uses technology, the Guard began focusing on standing up 10 Cyber Protection Teams in an effort to help the Nation better defend against cyber attacks. When we spoke with LTC Matt Chytka last fall, he anticipated Guard careers in technology and intelligence would continue to grow, just as they have in the private sector. 

National Guard Soldiers.LTC Chytka said the Guard was uniquely qualified to improve the country’s “cyber posture,” due to the fact that service is part-time, which allows a Citizen-Soldier® to attend school or work full- time in a private sector career.

“We have a very strong ability versus our active duty brethren to attract, and, particularly, to retain, highly skilled cyber military professionals that the Nation requires in order to maintain a keen cyber edge and superiority in the cyberspace realm,” he said.

While the Guard expands its career opportunities in STEM, it is also opening up more jobs to women.

The Guard, along with every other branch of the U.S. military, started seeing new faces in different roles last year as the Department of Defense (DoD) loosened restrictions regarding women serving in combat roles. Ultimately, the DoD announced in late 2015 that all military combat jobs, without exception, would be open to women who met the qualifications, like 2LT Tracci Dorgan-Bandy, who became the first female artillery officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard.

For her, a combat-oriented job was just one more area where she could prove herself and excel. Her previous Guard military occupational specialties (MOSs) included 25P Microwave Systems Operator/Maintainer and photojournalist.

“The Guard has opened so many doors for me, so many opportunities. I’ve never had anybody shut a door in my face in the Guard,” she said.

With more than 150 career fields to choose from, many of the Citizen-Soldiers we’ve interviewed say they appreciate the chance to move into career fields that might be completely different than their previous MOS, like SFC William Bart, who went into marketing and recruiting for the Alaska Guard after serving for years as 31B Military Police, which is one of the most searched for careers on our job board.

“You set your own destiny as far as your career goes,” SFC Bart said.

Of course, the best place to start thinking about your career destiny is to take a look at our job board, where you can search by keyword or location. You can also search by category, broadly defined as Administrative, Armor and Field Artillery, Aviation, Engineer, Infantry, Logistics Support, Mechanic and Maintenance, Medical, Military Police, Signal and Military Intelligence, and Transportation.

And for one-on-one advice, or answers to any questions you might have, contact a recruiter.

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Guard to Launch 10 Cyber Protection Teams Nationwide

Soldiers and Airmen from the North Carolina National Guard train for Cyber Guard 15, conducting a "red vs. blue" cyber exercise with help from the Kansas Air National Guard acting as the opposing force. Cyber Guard 15 is an exercise designed to defend Department of Defense information networks in the U.S. from disruptive or destructive cyberattacks. Photo by Major Robert Felicio, Army National Guard

Soldiers and Airmen from the North Carolina National Guard train for Cyber Guard 15, conducting a "red vs. blue" cyber exercise with help from the Kansas Air National Guard acting as the opposing force. Cyber Guard 15 is an exercise designed to defend Department of Defense information networks in the U.S. from disruptive or destructive cyberattacks. Photo by Major Robert Felicio, Army National Guard

Over the next three fiscal years, the Army National Guard plans to establish 10 Cyber Protection Teams (CPTs) in an effort to improve the Nation’s “cyber posture” or ability to defend against cyber attacks.

Read or listen to the news on just about any day, and you’ll hear about the theft of personal information or credit card numbers due to hacking, a phishing scam, or the spread of a computer virus.

Lieutenant Colonel Matt Chytka, Chief Information Officer for North Carolina National Guard, explains that cyber affects everything – academic institutions, corporations, law enforcement, government, and everyday citizens.

Even though these threats to computer networks are global in nature, one of the Guard’s distinct advantages is its ability to act locally because its personnel are already entrenched within the community.

Although the Guard has not responded to a cyber emergency as yet in North Carolina, it has had the opportunity to partner with State agencies to do assessments and training, says LTC Chytka.

“In the event something should happen, we’re not meeting each other for the first time and trying to figure out who knows what. We’ve already had that handshake and exchange of knowledge.”

LTC Chytka, who joined the Guard in 1979 as an 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman, worked on a team that installed and configured the first local area network (LAN) in the North Carolina Guard in the early 1990s.

“It became obvious to all of us, even in those early archaic days, that issues like network security, user authentication, and how to prevent unauthorized access were going to be critical elements of the IT environment.”

These days, in his role as CIO, LTC Chytka considers it his job to campaign for his State to serve as home base for one of the CPTs. National Guard Bureau will be deciding where the teams are based. So far, California, Georgia, and a joint team in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio were the first three teams to be chosen.

LTC Chytka says a cyber event that would require a CPT’s expertise could be anything from a major network hack to an infrastructure attack – where someone attempts to infiltrate and manipulate something major, like a power plant, gas line, or transportation network. He notes that his State is home to a number of airports, the Research Triangle Park, which is the largest research park in the country, and ports all along its coast.

“All of those offer unique and different cyber opportunities we have to think about and prepare for,” he says.

While a number of Department of Defense components are focusing on cyber defense, LTC Chytka says that the Guard is uniquely qualified to contribute to the effort.

“We have a very strong ability versus our active duty brethren to attract, and, particularly, to retain, highly skilled cyber military professionals that the Nation requires in order to maintain a keen cyber edge and superiority in the cyberspace realm.”

Part of that can be attributed to the fact that National Guard service is typically part-time, and therefore Guard members are able to maintain full-time private sector careers.

LTC Chytka notes that a number of North Carolina National Guard members are cyber professionals and subject matter experts who work for some of the major cyber defense, research, development, and protection companies across the State.

The CPTs will be comprised of military officers, warrant officers, and enlisted cyber warriors. LTC Chytka believes the following military occupational specialties (MOS) will be essential to these teams:

255S Cyberspace Defense Technician

255A Information Services Technician

25E Electromagnetic Spectrum Manager

25B Information Technology Specialist

25A Signal Officer

35F Intelligence Analyst

25D Cyber Network Defender

Plus, a new series of cyber-related MOSs that will help staff the CPTs is currently under development.

A cyber warrior should be able to apply deliberate, deep, and analytical thought, and have a willingness to ask questions and learn, says LTC Chytka.

“You are always going to be learning a new platform, a new infrastructure, a new coding algorithm. The cyber world is not one of the professions you can get a certification, get a degree, and ride that into the sunset without having to do a whole lot more additional education and professional development just to try to stay current with where the industry and cyber world are heading.”

If you’ve got a logical mind, and you never want to stop learning new things, find out more about a Guard career in cyber by visiting our jobs board and contacting a recruiter today.

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