Cyber Yankee Training Helps Guard Defend Nation from Cyberattacks

JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. – More than 400 eyes stare at a sea of laptops in a hallway of rooms. These eyes belong to the participants of Cyber Yankee 2018, an exercise between multiple National Guard cyber units and civilian agencies that trains participants to defend critical networks against domestic cyberattacks. 

At first glance, it may not appear as though much is happening, but not all military maneuvers take place on a traditional battlefield.

“They look at those in cyber and think, ‘Oh, they are just behind computer screens not doing anything.’ Well those guys could be the ones defending you, getting your orders properly, [or] your position, where you’re located,” said CPT Lee Ford, assistant team lead with Cyber Yankee and a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard Defensive Cyber Operations Element (DCOE).

“Technology is engrossed in every facet of our lives, texting mom in California, or ensuring clean water inside your faucets, technology is in every industry,” he said.

During the Cyber Yankee exercise, the Red Cell, or the bad guys, strike the defense, the Blue Cell, with different cyberattack scenarios. These simulated attacks are targeting a water supply networking system, a power company and a Department of Defense network. The Blue Cell mission is to make sure the region remains operational.

The cyber teams are prepared for battle due to their training, specific to the Soldier’s military occupational specialty (MOS), and/or their civilian careers.

In fact, here’s a short video about the Guard’s cyber training:


“We have a bunch of network monitoring software out there. A lot of it is based on skill, too. You have different people who are good at certain things,” said SSG Ryan Beaudoin, Rhode Island National Guard DCOE.

Due to the part-time nature of Guard service, many of the Soldiers on cyber teams come from civilian backgrounds in defense or intrusion detection, working for companies like IBM, Akamai, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

SPC Adam Wong works for MIT Lincoln Laboratories and is also a network and host base forensics analyst with 136th Cyber Security Support Team Detachment, New Hampshire Army National Guard.

“In the event of an intrusion, I will analyze malware files,” said SPC Wong. “I’ll conduct forensics, try to attempt to reverse-engineer the malware to figure out what it’s doing and also trace back into the network logs and try to figure out how it got there.”

He said the group is learning to hone its skills as a team and adapting to work in panic mode.

Part of the team is comprised of military analysts, who provide different angles on how to fight the scenarios.

“We can come in and we can analyze, look up that threat, see if they’ve had any issues in the past, see what they’re motivated by, whether it is money, political affiliation or something like that,” said SSG Tara O’Keefe, military intelligence analyst, 136th Cyber Company, Massachusetts Army National Guard.

SGT Colton Williams, 126th Cyber Protection Battalion, Massachusetts Army National Guard, is a 31B Military Police Officer retraining as a 25B Information Technology Specialist.

“The level of skills of these individuals, it blows me away,” he said of the cyber teams.

SGT Williams said he believes that this training is important because the network is everywhere, and the Guard needs to be able to activate stateside to help out citizens.

“There’s no dedicated front line, so having a Soldier who’s capable of operating both on the home front and overseas is absolutely necessary,” he said.

So if you’re interested in protecting your Nation, consider joining the Army National Guard, where you can work in a critical field like cyber or intelligence. Check out our job board to explore all of our opportunities and to learn more about our benefits, like money for college and low-cost health and life insurance. You can also contact your local recruiter for more information.

From an original story by SFC Laura Berry, Massachusetts Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil, in June 2018.

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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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