Wounded warriors take battle to cyberspace
By DAWNTHEA PRICE | The Free Lance-Star (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 18, 2015
Wounded service members are learning new ways to protect the nation through the intricacies of cybersecurity training.
Representatives from the Federal IT Security Institute and its Wounded Warrior Cyber Combat Academy were in Stafford County Monday to mark the program's progress.
Jim Wiggins, FITSI's executive director, said the training helps wounded service members transition from their traditional military duties to the digital battleground, allowing them to continue serving the nation despite physical limitations.
"We're just moving it from the physical battlefield to the cyber battlefield," he said.
FITSI launched the academy in March 2013 with 20 students, either Wounded Warriors or spouses and caregivers, with the goal of training them in the technical aspects of cybersecurity, in the hope of sending them off to rewarding employment within the IT or defense industries.
Wiggins said Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been instrumental in locating suitable candidates for the program, but that securing resources remains a top priority for the program. The 18- to 24-month course load, tests and other work costs around $9,500 per student.
Nearly two years after starting, 12 of the original students--called Cyber Team 1--have stuck with the rigorous training and earned at least one certification on top of juggling surgeries, physical rehabilitation, family life and transitioning.
Marines Staff Sgt. Christopher Robinson and Sgt. Miroslav Kazimir said the work, while challenging, has been rewarding in so many ways.
"The progress has been awesome to see," Robinson said. "We opened this not even knowing what's inside a computer."
"Now you understand all the things you were doing wrong," Kazimir said. "It's great to look back and go, 'Man, we did that.'"
Both men remain on active duty while working with the academy--and constantly juggle the workload with other duties.
Kazimir, for instance, is interning at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and undergoing additional medical care while caring for his newborn child and remaining up to date on the latest tools and tricks of the trade.
"Once you get a certification, you can't just stop. You continue to learn as much as possible," Robinson said. "We try to stay as current as we can. It works out, but it's a balance between the courses and our families."
Robinson, who hopes to apply his new skills in the field of digital forensics, said the school maintains a tight-knit community while providing new opportunities.
Rick Cobert, business development administrator for the county, said the students' determination to learn a new career to serve their country exemplified a core strength.
"Adversity doesn't build character," he said. "It reveals it."
The academy received a $7,500 check from the Raytheon Co. office in Stafford Monday. The money will go toward the education of a student in as many as 12 information technology certifications.
Jeff Speights, manager of Raytheon's Stafford office, said he was introduced to the academy by Wendy Maurer, a former colleague.
Speights, who served in the Marines, said the foundation that oversees the academy keeps Wounded Warriors "at its heart and soul."
Maurer, a member of the Stafford Economic Development Authority involved with FITSI, said she had been "both feet in" since finding the foundation.
"It's forward-thinking, hopeful and makes them feel like there's a future," she said. "They epitomize this spirit we have in this country."
By taking wounded warriors and training them as cyberwarriors, Speights said, the academy goes "above and beyond" what other philanthropic organizations can provide for Wounded Warriors.
"Jim Wiggins' organization is educating them, training and certifying these warriors, and then helping to place them into very substantive employment positions where they can help themselves and help their families," Speights said. "I can't think of a greater cause than our company can be involved in."
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