Va. Guard cyber warriors take part in national exercise


Soldiers from the Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit take part in Cyber Shield 2013 Sept. 18, 2013. (Contributed Photo)

Soldiers from the Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit take part in Cyber Shield 2013 Sept. 18, 2013. (Contributed Photo)

FAIRFAX, Va. — Ten Virginia National Guard Soldiers took part in Cyber Shield 2013 from Sept. 16-19, 2013, at the National Guard Professional Education Center in North Little Rock, Ark., to improve their ability to provide response capabilities to cyber attacks. The exercise provided an opportunity for Virginia Guard cyber warriors to build on the experience gained in a state-level exercise in May and the Cyber Guard exercise in July at Fort Meade, Md.

The three exercises were part of a the IOSC’s training strategy to work on the entire spectrum of a state response package with an evolving cyber force structure. The training focused on improving the standard operating procedures and battle drills needed to plan, staff, deploy, integrate, execute and recover cyber warriors within a state or national cyber emergency.

Soldiers from the Fairfax-based Information Operations Support Command and Data Processing unit provided personnel to provide mission command support as well as cyber mission support teams. Personnel from more than 40 states took part in the exercise.

“This was a great exercise that accomplished a variety of things including the staffing, deploying, executing and recovering of a cyber team and cyber command structure for an out-of-state mission,” said Col. Edward Morgan, commander of the IOSC.

The job of the cyber warriors is to defend the network, recover lost data or capabilities and restore the network to proper working order.

Morgan explained that the exercise provided some of the most realistic training his Soldiers have conducted, similar to what maneuver units see at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Ca. Typical threats in the cyber domain involve attacks aimed at stealing data, gaining control of a network or trying to control information to disrupt or manipulate the decision making process.

“Even though you are sitting in front of computer screens, this is as close as you can get to an NTC environment where you have a combined cyber force and opposing force launching attacks on your network,” Morgan said.

The exercise ran 24 hours a day over the four-day period and required the highly-skilled cyber warriors to not only put their individual skills and experience to work, but also tested their leadership skills to ensure a unity of effort. Each day, participants didn’t content with a single issue that had to be resolved over a long period of time, but rather they were hit by multiple issues that sometime built on top of existing issues.

According to Morgan, bringing together cyber mission experts requires leadership to manage and coordinate the efforts, and that leader has to have tactical awareness but also understand the technology involved.

“This is a collective effort, and what one person does on a computer impacts what happens on other computers,” he said. “It has to be coordinated, or you can bring down the whole network with a keystroke.”

As the exercise ran its course in Arkansas, Soldiers in Fairfax were also able to monitor the situation and provide updates to the Virginia National Guard Joint Operations Center, providing additional valuable training for the IOSC’s role in providing cyber mission command support.

In addition to building on their experience, the Virginia Soldiers also earned continuing education credits that can be applied to different certifications they hold for their cyber skills. Morgan explained that one of the benefits of a National Guard cyber unit based in Northern Virginia is the incredible amount of civilian-acquired experience the Soldiers in IOSC and DPU bring to the mission.

“This exercise provided a live environment that showed us what Virginia might see in a cyber threat and measured our relevance and responsiveness to a real world threat,” Morgan said. “What I saw out here was phenomenal, and this is our measurement for how to improve our cyber teams. We learned some great stuff and have more experienced leaders coming back to Virginia.”