Guard leaders attend new cyber course

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem
  • 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
National Guard leaders attended a four-day cyber security familiarization course Dec. 7-10 in San Antonio.  The class was the first of its kind for the Air National Guard that previously had no cyber security training for its senior leaders or commanders not assigned to cyber career fields.

The training course relies on seasoned professionals with extensive information security experience from the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio.   The course outlines various cyber threats and educates leaders on the resources available to neutralize those threats.

For Brig. Gen. David McMinn, commander of the Texas Air National Guard, this course came at just the right time.

"Everybody agrees that the next big Pearl Harbor for us will be in the cyber realm," McMinn said. "We need to be adept in this realm. This course is helping senior leaders assess capabilities of not only our adversaries but also those of our own cyber forces."

The National Guard Bureau also announced the placement of multiple cyber protection teams across the nation during the same week senior leaders were attending the course - aligning the teams with FEMA management regions - yet another indicator that the Department of Defense aims to increase cyber preparedness. Texas was one of the four states assigned with Air National Guard cyber teams.

During the training, senior leaders spent some time at the 273rd Information Operations Squadron, an Air National Guard unit with a reputation for being cyber savvy. Walking into an environment of experts in a field where many are still beginners, could feel intimidating, but Maj. Kristy Leasman, commander of the 273rd IOS, aims to dispel those feelings.

"I want to take the mystery out of cyber for them," Leasman said. "The course builds a significant foundation, and the big lesson at the end of the week is that cyber is not special. It's just operations.  Senior leaders should approach cyber operations the same way they approach any other operational task. This course just helps with the language translation."

According to McMinn, deciphering that language is crucial.

"We started this course in Texas because we identified a huge need for our National Guard leaders -- both Army and Air -- to learn what's going on in the cyber realm, and to be able get this training in San Antonio, a center for cyber excellence -- to run portions of the course right here at the 24th and 25th Air Force -- makes us the ideal location to be trained up on these amazing capabilities." McMinn said.

Because the dangers of the cyber domain are different than those of the physical domain, McMinn believes the action must fit the danger.

"Any other threat you see coming -- the warning signs. You can see, 'hey, they just launched a missile,' but cyber attacks have no warning signs except for readiness, aptitude and the skills of those in the intel and cyber fields that see those things coming and protect us," he said.

During one of his lunch breaks, McMinn engaged in a conversation with some of his peers about how this class has helped them better understand the old adage of an ounce of prevention being weightier than a pound of cure.

"I had an idea about how big the problem was but after attending this course and learning what the full-scale threat is, I'm very much alarmed," McMinn said.  But this training has taught me how to protect my family and myself, how to protect an organization, and what our forces are doing to prevent those cyber threats.

But concern wasn't the only thing on the Texas leader's mind. Visiting with the cyber operatives bolstered his confidence.

"Not only am I more alarmed, but I also feel more secure in knowing what our amazing people our doing to protect us," McMinn said. "We can't always see what's going on behind the curtain, but there is a lot going on behind that curtain."