Wanted: Cyberwarriors, no experience or knowledge necessary

Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy study basic cyber operations in a computer science classroom July 20, 2011.


By JON HARPER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 29, 2014

WASHINGTON — To meet manning requirements for cyber warfare that will skyrocket in the coming years, the Pentagon will focus on recruiting and training people already in uniform, even those without any cyber background or knowledge, defense officials said Friday.

“Our nation’s reliance on cyberspace outpaces our cybersecurity,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Friday at Fort Meade, Md., during the retirement ceremony for Gen. Keith Alexander, the outgoing commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

The Defense Department currently has about 1,800 people in its Cyber Mission Force. That number is scheduled to jump to 6,000 by the end of 2016, according to DOD. There are currently 17 teams engaged in cyber operations, and the Pentagon wants to field 133 of those teams by the end of fiscal 2016, Alexander said in written testimony to a House Armed Services subcommittee earlier this month.

To meet these ambitious goals, DOD wants to recruit people who are already in the military to fill these new positions.

“We spent a lot of time in the last two years in particular figuring out what that [recruiting] model would be. Initially sometimes people will think about recruiting highly skilled people from the outside, and that is one option … But quite honestly, the way we’re going to be most successful is using people within the force [including those with no cyber background] and giving them the training,” a senior defense official told reporters Friday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, noted that many cyber experts in Silicon Valley would have to give up jobs that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to come work for CYBERCOM.

The official said DOD has already had success in building its cyberforce from the inside.

“There’s no question that you can train people up to be elite cyber operators. And we now — driven by the services — have processes in place in the department where they will identify people who have the right mix of aptitude, fire in the belly, and desire to kind of reinvent themselves, and put them through a training pipeline that ends up resulting in us having highly trained operators … We’ve already seen, you know, hundreds of cases in which there were people who didn’t know anything about cyber at all [but] we’ve reinvented them and reformed them into something where they’re part of the elite force,” according to the official.

Hagel cited the case of Petty Officer 1st Class Chase Hardison as an example of this phenomenon. Four years ago, Hardison was a machinist’s mate serving on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. But after talking with his wife about his future career path, Hardison signed up for a cyber course in Pensacola, Fla., and he’s now an ‘Interactive Operator’ at CYBERCOM, Hagel told the audience at the retirement ceremony.

“[Hardison] was a machinist, which is not one of the most highly skilled people in the workforce. But [he] had the aptitude and, more importantly, he had the desire to reinvent himself, and he’s now one of the most elite cyber operators within CYBERCOM,” the anonymous official told reporters while previewing Hagel’s speech.

Hagel emphasized the financial benefits that cyber training can bring for servicemembers after they leave the military, and said it should be used as an inducement to get more troops into the cyber ranks.

“[Harrison] knows he’ll have great options and opportunities when he’s ready to leave the Navy,” Hagel said. “To continue recruiting and retaining talent ... we must build rewarding, long-term cyber career paths. Our military must enable our [people] to reinvent themselves for life in and beyond their service.”

Hagel said building the cyber force will remain one of DOD’s top priorities going forward.

Twitter: @JHarperStripes