State Employees at Texas Military Department Reach New High in Charitable Giving

AUSTIN, TX, UNITED STATES

06.01.2017

Story by Sgt. Mark Otte 

Texas Military Department

 

AUSTIN, Texas--The Texas Military Department was recognized at the annual State Employee Charitable Campaign awards banquet, February 16, 2017, in Austin, for its marked jump in giving. Contributions from individuals employed by the agency were up over 100 percent from the previous year with receipts that totaled just short of $20,000.

The two-month long campaign, which runs from September to October, has been providing state employees a safe, reliable way to make contributions to charities since 1994, and topped the $8 million mark in total giving for 2016. 

With approximately 500 state employees, the Texas Military Department set a goal to raise $12,000 in 2016, a goal that was almost doubled because of the hard work of campaign co-chairs, Emily Bell, and Tanya Kelly, said Bill Wilson, the Executive Director of the Texas Military Department.

“I have been so impressed with dedication of those two,” Wilson said. “This effort is not a duty assignment, it is beyond the scope of their daily work, but their passion for charity is infectious and has really energized the campaign.”

While the three were happy to be recognized at the awards banquet, they said that the energy spent on the campaign wasn’t focused on winning trophies or awards, but rather to share the opportunity to truly give back to those in need.

"It isn't necessarily about the amount of money we raise," said Bell. "It's about letting everyone know about the opportunity they have, and to grow participation in the program."

While the brunt of the work for the campaign was done by Kelly and Bell, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general for Texas, said that participation in the State Employee Charitable Campaign was a priority from the top down.

"Giving back to the communities where we live, work and serve is something that the Texas Military Department has always taken pride in," said Nichols. "The continued growth in participation in the SECC says a lot about the kind of people who serve day to day as employees of the Texas Military Department."

One faction of the Texas Military Department, the maintenance crew at Camp Mabry, continued its long-standing tradition of 100 percent participation among its employees, an effort that didn't go unnoticed at the front office.

"Peter Byers is a great asset to have on your team," said Kelly, of the head of that department. "He leads by example and encourages everyone around him to get involved, even if it is in a small way."

While Bell and Kelly will continue to take the point next year, they said that new members could expect to help organize and coordinate events that boost giving. Last year the duo hosted a myriad of events intended to amplify participation in the program, and with additional help, hope to expand those efforts. 

Waffle Wednesday was an instant hit and is sure to return this year, according to the organizers. A Hallowing costume contest--in which participates entry fee was participation in the SECC-- gave the largest boost in terms of dollars given last year.

The charities employees can choose from are vetted by the campaign so participants can feel secure when giving to organizations through this program. Contributions through the SECC are made via a payroll deduction to make giving convenient. The catalog of participating charities does vary from year to year, but anyone can submit a charity for addition to the list.

The SECC campaign was created by legislation in 1993 and is for state agency and higher education employees throughout Texas. Those on the federal side are able to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign each year. 

If a Texas Military Department state employee wants to join the team and help with the 2017 campaign, they are encouraged to contact Emily Bell at StarBase Austin.

"We need people to contact one of these two and let them know they want to get involved,” Wilson said. "Now is a great time to say, 'I want to be a part of this."

Taking weather to new heights

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Photo By Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton | Members of the 181st Weather Flight parachute into Lake Worth after jumping out of a C-130 Hercules during a deliberate water drop in Forth Worth, Texas, May 20, 2017. The training mission was scheduled for members to practice airborne covert water parachute infiltration and included a joint effort between the Texas Air National Guard, Army, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and local fire department. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton)

FORT WORTH, TX, UNITED STATES

05.23.2017

Story by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton

136th Airlift Wing (Texas Air National Guard)  

 

Among the most highly trained fleet of Airmen in the Texas Air National Guard are those from the Air Force Special Operations Weather Team. Far from the typical expectation of meteorologists, Air Force Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT) airmen undergo unique training to operate in hostile and denied territories to provide on-the-ground weather reporting to Air Force and joint service special operations units. SOWT members maintain weather and weapon system qualifications in addition to advanced special tactics skills which provide them with expertise needed to gather, assess, and interpret environmental data and forecast operational impacts in deployed locations.

To stay current in their capabilities, SOWT airmen from the 181st Weather Flight, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, stationed at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base executed a deliberate water jump into Lake Worth in Fort Worth, Texas, May 20, 2017. The training mission was scheduled for members to practice airborne covert water parachute infiltration and included a joint effort between the Texas Air National Guard, Army, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and local fire department.

“This was a big tactical training day for us and the first time any unit has parachuted into Lake Worth,” said Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Hobbs, 181st Weather Flight superintendent. “An intentional water drop is done to put us offshore where we can quietly swim in to reach an objective and remain uncompromised. Typically due to logistics it is easier for us to go and train with a larger unit that has more support capability. So, for us to pull this off and be able to coordinate with internal and external state and federal agencies improved our relations and strengthened our overall capabilities as a force and unit."

The mission allowed 12 service members to parachute out of a C-130 Hercules from an altitude of 1000 feet into Lake Worth using MC-6 parachutes. Members of the local fire department and Coast Guard Auxiliary provided boat support to aid in parachute and jumper recovery, and provide medevac capabilities if necessary.

“This was the first time we were able to do something like this as far as recovery,” said Ralph Diamond, Fort Worth Fire Department battalion chief. “There are more than 900 firefighters in the city with a lot of diverse backgrounds and skills sets, and several of those guys also serve in the military. We were able to utilize those internal relationships to train on things that we don’t have the opportunity to do as often. We also get to improve our methods on-the- ground, as far as communication and working through these missions to make sure they run smoothly in the
future. It truly benefits both sides and it was very exciting to see some of our own jumping out of that aircraft.”

Master Sgt. James Henderson, 181st Weather Flight special operations weatherman, one of the six guardsmen who also serves as a fireman with the Fort Worth Fire Department said the jump was successful and enjoyed working with both agencies.

“It really went great,” Henderson said. “Everyone came together and worked really well to make the mission happen. Working with other branches of special operations and being able to integrate the local department was helpful because it connects different agencies and allows us to work side-by- side to provide response and recovery that could be used in the future. It helps to rehearse and go over any potential malfunctions or mishaps, that way we are always ready.”

Teamwork is an essential element for SOWT members, as they regularly work with different services and organizations. Sergeant Hobbs concluded that without the assistance of everyone involved, there could be no mission success.

“It’s really all thanks to the people who helped out," Hobbs said. "Without them -- the aircrew, operations group, Carswell Field senior leadership and the city of Fort Worth, it wouldn’t have happened. We are a small unit so we rely heavily on other people to help us out. Having the special operations detachment, the 294th Quartermaster unit from Austin, the Fort Worth Fire Department and Lake Rangers, and Coast Guard Auxiliary assist and be a part of this coordination and mission made all the difference.”

Command Chief Master Sgt. Oscar Tey Retirement

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Command Chief Master Sgt. Oscar Tey, Senior Enlisted Leader for the Texas Domestic Operations Task Force, hands Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commander of the Texas Domestic Operations Task Force, the NCO sword at a change of responsibility ceremony held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 20, 2017. Tey hands over his duties to Command Sgt. Maj. Elizabeth Shockley. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon).

AUSTIN, TX, UNITED STATES

05.22.2017

Story by SFC Malcolm McClendon 

Texas Military Department  

 

AUSTIN, Texas - “He is one of those individuals that is really, really good at absolutely everything that he does” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commander of the Texas Domestic Operations Task Force. “He truly excels in everything and it’s infectious.”

Hamilton was speaking about Command Chief Oscar Tey to friends, family and fellow Guardsmen at the senior enlisted leader’s retirement ceremony held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 20, 2017.

“He has unique skills and is able to communicate with everyone across the force,” Hamilton continued. “He could walk in and talk to a group of soldiers just as easily as airmen.”

Hamilton recalled the obstacles the task force, which is made up of both Army and Air National Guardsmen, held and how Tey’s unique military career made him the right person to bridge that gap.

Tey began his military career when he enlisted in the United States Army in 1983 as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, Division. After three years he left active duty and transferred to the Texas Army National Guard, where he served as a communications team chief with the 49th Armored Division. 

“He came into the Army first and then he lost his mind somewhere along the way and joined the Air Force,” Hamilton joked. “But this is exactly what we needed.”

After a short break in service, Tey joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1991 and served in 149th Fighter Wing climbing the ranks to Chief, an accomplishment he owes to those around him.

“I never imagined I would stay in the military as long as I have and making it as high as I have,” Tey said. “It was those senior leaders that guided me when I was a young soldier and my family that convinced me to stay.”

The youngest of seven children, Tey recognized the positive, hard working traits his parents and brothers laid for him.

“There are many reasons I shouldn’t be here today,” Tey said. “I could have made many excuses, but I did not because of the strong foundation they laid out for me. And I stand here before you today as a chief master sergeant because of that.”

Tey said he recognizes the successful career he has had, but doesn’t do it to boast, rather to encourage and show junior service members that there are many opportunities out there and that one just needs to take advantage of them.

Tey served as the senior enlisted leader for DOMOPS since 2013 and passes on responsibility to Command Sgt. Maj. Elizabeth Shockley.

“He will be missed and it will be a tough time for us,” Hamilton said. “But the strong joint environment he has created within the unit will be a platform that command sergeant major Shockley can easily pick up and move forward with.”

One last honor

Austin, Texas

05.19.2017

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Texas Military Department

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Service members on the Texas Military Department's Military Funeral honors team prepare to issue a three volley salute during the funeral of a U.S. veteran. (Photo courtesy of Texas Military Funeral Honors)

Memorial Day is a federal holiday to remember those that have died while serving. For most people this means a day off work and a good reason to fire up the grill and spend time with friends and family.

For the Texas National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Team, Memorial Day comes every day — only barbecue is not included. 

“We are there at the moment when the family suffers the loss of their loved one who has passed away,” said Jim Levine Jr., Military Funeral Honors State Coordinator. “We are the last living representation of the military. It’s us honoring their service every day.”

This long-standing military custom dates back to World War I, and until recently, services were only provided when manpower was available. In 2001, the National Defense Authorization Act passed a law that mandated the United States Armed Forces provide the rendering of honors in a military funeral for any eligible veteran.

“All family members want military funeral honors, they want to see that flag being folded and the sound of the trumpet, that is closure for the family,” said Ricky Williams, memorial affairs coordinator, at Joint Base San Antonio - Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

The family member or next-of-kin of the veteran must request honors through their funeral director. The funeral director then contacts the appropriate military service to arrange for the funeral honors detail.

Most Texas veteran memorial requests are processed through the casualty assistance office of Fort Sam.

“We cover everyone from Buda to Mexico and Beaumont to El Paso, active duty, reserves and National Guard,” said Williams. “We average 2,250 services a year.”

Williams assigns the services to Military Funeral Honor teams based on their component, area of responsibility and availability. In instances where active duty teams are over tasked, Texas guardsmen can honor any veteran in Texas.

“We depend on the Texas National Guard to help us make the family happy by coming out and performing funeral honors because we don’t have the manpower without them,” said Williams.

Recently, the team conducted a joint memorial service to honor a veteran from the Tuskegee Air Force.

“We did a joint service for a Tuskegee Airmen from WWII with the Air Force,” said Levine. “Since he was a pilot in the Tuskegee Air Force, we were able to do that with him. The Air Force did the flag folding we did the firing party, it was a great deal.”

The Texas Honor Guard has approximately 14 full-time Soldiers and 25 traditional Guardsmen. Regardless of the veteran’s military branch, Texas Guardsmen treat every service with honor and respect.

“It’s an honor for me to do this,” said Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Jonathan Strother, assistant team leader for Military Funeral Honors. “Whether they served in Vietnam, WWII or whatever era that they served, we want to leave a lasting impression of our sincerity and appreciation for their veterans services.”

Strother joined the team in 2011 as a bugler and worked his way up to an assistant team lead. He is the first Texas Guardsmen to perform nearly 1,900 services.

His leadership role allows him to instill his knowledge and expertise to incoming Soldiers.

“What I tell the young Soldiers coming in is be professional, this is not an easy job, we are on call seven days a week and we don’t usually get weekends off,” said Strother. “It is a very stressful job dealing with death and the families, but it is a very rewarding in the same sense.”

Through the military funeral honors program, Texas Guardsmen are able to share their passion of providing the family one last military honor.

“The family sometimes doesn’t see the honor behind their veterans’ service, they just know that he/she sacrifices; they are gone a lot and they deploy a lot,” said Levine. “But when they see our guys at the funeral, doing the flag folding, presenting the flag, playing the taps, we are honoring their service so therefore, for the family we are honoring their sacrifice.” 

As you celebrate your Memorial Day this year, please take a moment to remember those that have given their lives for our freedom, and their families still here.

Desert Defender Female Sniper

TMD Goes Green with Solar Energy

SAN ANTONIO, TX, UNITED STATES
05.19.2017
Video by James Buehler and Malcolm McClendon
Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center

In Ft Bliss El Paso, Texas, stands a course for Air Force Security Forces. Here you will find the only female instructor for the sniper course. Here is James Buehler with the story, that shows no favoritism.

149th FW Gunfighters participate in Coronet Cactus 2017

TMD Goes Green with Solar Energy

SAN ANTONIO, TX, UNITED STATES

05.16.2017

Video by Tech. Sgt. Mindy Bloem 

149th Fighter Wing (Texas Air National Guard)

Coronet Cactus is an annual training event that takes members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona to participate in an simulated deployment exercise.

TMD Readies For Hurricane Season

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Photo By Sgt. Mark Otte | Lt. Col. Robert Eason, Operations Director at the Texas Military Department, explains the planning and coordination of Texas Military Department's assets integration into a statewide plan at the annual Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas May, 10th, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte.)

AUSTIN, TEXAS, TX, UNITED STATES

05.15.2017

Story by Sgt. Mark Otte 

Texas Military Department  

 

AUSTIN, Texas--The Texas Military Department, May 10, 2017, hosted its annual interagency Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin.

Each year the Texas Military Department Domestic Operations Task Force invites its emergency-response partners from around the state to Camp Mabry for a walk through of the interagency-plan to integrate the TMD’s assets into a hurricane response, should one hit Texas. During the drill representatives of each agency described their responsibilities at each phase of the 120-hour statewide response to a fictional hurricane's looming landfall, this time in Houston. 

Representatives from around a dozen agencies attended the forum, including Texas Department of Emergency Management, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Task Force 1, the Texas Army and Air National Guard as well as officials from local agencies.

"Revising our plan, sharing lessons learned, implementing new tools and refining our processes helps maintain a relevant and ready force," said Maj. Matthew Combs, J7 Director for the Texas Military Department. "Working with our partners establishes a relationship that builds trust and reliability, ensuring that the citizens of our great state have the best when they need it the most."

Part of the Texas Military Department's hurricane response is to quickly transform its standing battle-ready units into smaller more efficient groups that can more effectively address the needs of Texas citizens in a time of crisis. These Mission Ready Packages can rapidly be dispersed around the state when requested by local entities. Packages include equipment, like aviation assets, that make life-saving rescues possible in locations that might not have been, using only local equipment.

The Texas Military Department has developed these Mission Ready Packages through its ongoing operations around the state.

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Texas Adjutant General, Major General John F. Nichols reviews the state's plan for a hurricane with Texas agency leaders at the Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 10, 2017. The H-ROC drill brings together all the agencies involved in hurricane response in Texas for a walk though of the state's plan. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte/Released)


"I am often asked why we use Mission Ready Packages instead of sending the entire military units," said Maj. Gen John F. Nichols, The Adjutant General for Texas. "Over the past 13 years, with over 586,000 man-days across 230 different support missions, we have learned that an entire unit organized for military operations is not always the most efficient or effective for a domestic response."

One of the major obstacles that officials sought to address was the explosive growth around Houston. Because of that growth, more high-water rescue assets may be needed to rescue the additional citizens living in newly developed areas. Planners at the meeting said that the Texas Military Department has the equipment needed to perform the rescues, but that maintaining current maps of those areas at a high risk of flooding should be a priority.

The drill is just one step in the state's ongoing commitment to hurricane response preparedness. Prior to May’s event a tabletop exercise was completed, and in June a full-scale statewide response to another fictitious hurricane will be the final dress rehearsal before the 2017 hurricane season gets into full swing.

The last major hurricane strike in Texas was in 2008 when hurricane Ike, a category 2 hurricane, made landfall in Galveston. Then Governor, Rick Perry, authorized 7500 troops to be mobilized to the area in response to that storm.

Texas State Guardsmen Render Aid at Motorcycle Accident

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Warrant Officer Jack Snow and Sgt. Earl Woolbright, 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment, Texas State Guard receive the Texas State Guard Texas Meritorious Service Ribbon from Brig. Gen. Howard N. Palmer, Jr., at a ceremony held at Camp Maxey, Paris, Texas, May 6, 2017.  They received this award for their emergency assistance at a motorcycle accident near Hillsboro, Texas.  (Texas State Guard photo by Capt. Esperanza Meza)

Story by: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Malana Nall, Texas State Guard

 

Warrant Officer Jack Snow and Sgt. Earl Woolbright, 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment, Texas State Guard, were deep in a conversation about their recent ground search and recovery training and the importance of being prepared for an emergency or disaster as they headed home from drill on Interstate 35 south of Hillsboro, Texas, April 17, 2017.  

Then they saw the motorcycle accident.  Emergency personnel had not yet arrived, so Snow and Woolbright pulled over and got to work rendering medical aid and support to the two injured riders.  

“Those who were at the accident scene saw two Texas State Guardsmen rendering aid which is what they are trained to do in an emergency or disaster.  Snow and Woolbright represent the best of the Guard,” stated Maj. Ted Prescott, Commander, 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment.  

Woolbright, who is the Assistant Fire Chief for Dallas County Fire/Rescue and an emergency medical technician, took charge of the scene.  He began assessing one victim, who was having difficulty breathing, seemed confused, had broken legs. Snow, who is a twenty-five year law enforcement veteran and deputy of Johnson County, attended to the other victim who showed signs of trauma to the head and hand. They attended to the victims until Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and emergency personnel arrived.

“Sgt. Woolbright was instrumental in providing emergency assistance at the scene.  He performed his duties professionally and calmly.  He provided important patient information to the emergency responders,” stated Snow.

Both credit the emergency training that they have received from the Texas State Guard and their law enforcement professions.  

“I have been an EMT/Firefighter for 27 years. My training and service in the Texas State Guard keeps my skills sharp and provides me with another opportunity to serve others.  I am honored to be a member of the Texas State Guard,” stated Woolbright.

Snow agreed.  “My training in the Texas State Guard for emergency situations and my law enforcement background give me the skills and knowledge that allowed me to assist the victims of this accident just as I would do in any other emergency or disaster,” commented Snow.

Woolbright and Snow received the Texas State Guard Meritorious Service Ribbon from Brig. Gen. Howard Palmer, Commander, Army Component, during a ceremony held at Camp Maxey, Paris, Texas, May 6, 2017.

Exercise Cyber Shield 17 Tests 102nd Information Operations Battalion Soldiers

AUSTIN, TX, UNITED STATES

05.05.2017

Story by Maj. Ray McCulloch 

102nd Information Operations Battalion  

 

Members of the Texas Army National Guard and Air National Guard participated in a major network defense exercise at Camp Williams in Utah from April 17 to May 5, 2017.

Members of the Texas Army National Guard’s 102nd Information Operations Battalion and the Texas Air National Guard’s 273rd Information Operations Squadron participated in Exercise Cyber Shield 17, the Army National Guard’s premier cyber defense exercise.

The exercise, which included members of the National Guard from 44 states and territories, the U.S. Army Reserve, state and federal government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry, was designed to enhance participants’ ability to respond to cyber incidents.

Cyber Shield 17 kicked off with a week of training and preparation that culminated in a scenario-based cyber roleplay during the second week. This was the sixth iteration of the exercise.

Participants were broken up into several groups, or “cells,” for the exercise.

Red Cell members simulated hostile hackers attempting to compromise a computer network, while members of the Blue Cell attempted to defend their networks against the Red Cell’s attacks. The Gold Cell supported the Blue Cell members with coaching and mentorship, while White Cell members evaluated the Blue Cell’s performance.

Members of the 102nd IO Battalion served on the blue and red teams. Other battalion Soldiers provided network management to support the exercise and served in the fusion center. According to a Department of Homeland Security handout, fusion centers are owned by state and local governments and operate with federal support. Their mission is to “provide multidisciplinary expertise and situational awareness to inform decision making at all levels of government.”

Red team members, such as Sgt. 1st Class Jon Wachter, play the role of adversary hackers or the opposing forces. In IT, that would be someone hacking into the network.

“Our main job is to train the blue team,” Wachter stated. That training included exploiting vulnerabilities to pivot or maneuver through their networks.

“We find gaps in their systems in order to exploit vulnerabilities and establish a stronger foothold into the IT terrain to ultimately gain control of systems, networks, or infrastructure,” Wachter said. “We try not to hamstring them so that there is some learning value for the blue team.”

For example, Wachter and his team took control of the administrative password, which would have completely shut down the training for the Blue Team. After an hour, they gave the Blue Team their password back so they could reestablish control of their networks.

Wachter was a team member assigned to the Indiana Red Team. He played the part of a hacker and an insider threat to Indiana’s IT infrastructure. His team stole fictitious personal identifiable information, defaced websites and attempted to disrupt business processes. In general, they created havoc on the network and systems used by the Indiana Blue Team and their mission partners.

“I wasn’t expecting them to bring so much skill to the table; they had a lot of talent here. It was definitely challenging for me, us,” he said. “They actually have a lot of people on this team who do this for their civilian careers as well, so they had a huge advantage!”

Wachter also stated that this exercise helped him network with a variety of very intelligent individuals and learn from their skills and experiences. “I was also able to observe the Blue Team and take away tips, techniques and procedures from them. That was the big lesson for me,” he said.

On the other side of the exercise were the Blue Teams. Blue Teams are state-affiliated National Guard and mission partners who must react to a cyber incident in the exercise. Ultimately, they are charged with expelling the adversary Red Team from their network.

For Texas, this included Staff Sgt. Brian Jones. Jones is an intelligence analyst from the 102nd IO Battalion attached to the Texas Cyber Protection Team for this exercise. He provided embedded intelligence support to the Blue Team operators, including predictive analysis, intelligence summaries and disseminated information on known threats passed from the fusion cell.

“Cyber Shield 17 is a training exercise developed to enhance the skills of the Blue Team in order to defend the operational environment – or the friendly networks – from the adversary’s cyberattacks,” said Jones.

According to Jones, information flow was the most difficult task. That included between governmental agencies at the state and national levels, as well as between Army National Guard, Air National Guard and civilian mission partners. Understanding how intelligence flows between components of the Texas National Guard was an integral part to the success of the Texas Blue Team.

This was an excellent opportunity for them to experience the reality of communications shortfalls between mission partners, the National Guard and the U.S. government agencies according to Jones. “It’s definitely a challenge, but we are working through it really well.”

The provided training facilitated the Blue Team’s ability to identify indicators of compromise in the network. Indicators are “observables” that there may be an intrusion in the system – like malware, phishing or unauthorized access.

“This exercise was a great opportunity to work with multiple [mission partners] in a group effort of incident response to take back a compromised network that we have been called in to defend,” Jones emphasized.

Mission partners that participated in Cyber Shield this year included federal agencies such as the FBI and DHS, state departments of justice, as well as private companies such as Microsoft, Lockheed Martin and Monsanto. The Army and Air National Guards – in coordination with federal agencies – worked with civilian mission partners to resolve issues on their networks. 

The lessons learned here are vitally important moving forward to defend state infrastructure and networks from cyber threats, cyberattacks and other cyber incidents. “What we learn here makes us more effective communicators in the future. I’ve learned so much from this exercise,” Jones said.

Cyber Shield 17 offers opportunity for interagency cooperation

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Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Sean Cochran with the Missouri Cyber Team, Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Rollings, with the Texas Cyber Protection Team, and Ryan Valencik, a Penetration Tester at Leidos, Inc., prepare to engage in cyber attacks as Red Cell members in Cyber Shield 17 at Camp Williams, Utah, April 26, 2017. The National Guard is working closely with its interagency partners and the private sector to strengthen network cyber-security and capabilities to support local responses to cyber incidents in Cyber Shield 17. (U.S. Army National Guard photos by Sgt. Michael Giles)

UT, UNITED STATES

04.27.2017

Photo by: Sgt. Michael Giles

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

“It’s the best job in the military,” Capt. Joshua Montgomery, a member of an Air National Guard team that tests cyber defense elements, enthused. “We get to break things. We get to go and do all of the things that would send you to jail in the real world. It’s fantastic.”

Montgomery is not a criminal, but he plays one for the Guard. As a member of the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, Montgomery tests cyber defense capabilities by attempting to hack into sensitive information systems. 

“The idea of an information aggressor squadron is to understand the tactics that real-world adversaries—like hackers and corporate espionage agents—use,” Montgomery explained. He then uses that understanding to find network vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

Montgomery is preparing to put his hacking skills to use as a member of the Red Cell during Cyber Shield 17, a cyber defense exercise being held at Camp Williams, Utah, April 24 to May 5, 2017.

Cyber Shield 17 is a National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve event that begins with a week of training and preparation and culminates in a scenario-based cyber role-play. It is the sixth iteration of the exercise, which began in 2012, and trains members the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and Army Reserve, as well as civilians who work in law enforcement, intelligence and information technologies. 

Participants belong to one of several cells. Red Cell members, such as Montgomery, play the role of adversary hackers. Members of the Blue Cell attempt to defend against the Red Cell’s attacks. Members of the Gold Cell support the Blue Cell with coaching and mentorship, while White Cell members evaluate the Blue Cell’s performance.

As Red Cell members prepare to break into Blue Cell systems, their opposite numbers prepare for an experience that Blue Cell leader Maj. Kevin T. Mamula predicts will push them to their limits. 

“The blue teams will be challenged to their breaking points by design,” said Mamula, who also works as the cyber network defense team lead for Ohio. “They will be stressed and frustrated and mad. But they will come out as a much more effective team.”

Exercise participants emphasized that the threat that cyber attacks pose make this kind of challenging training crucial.

“Cyber threats are real,” said Capt. Joshua Hull, from the Nebraska Joint Force Headquarters, who serves as assistant leader for the Nebraska Blue Team in Cyber Shield 17. “They are already all around us, and they affect every aspect of our daily interactions.”

Hull said he is confident that his team will be able to succeed in warding off the Red Cell attacks thanks to effective collaboration he has observed among his comrades.

“We have very good team cohesion,” Hull said. “We have a very good flow of information and we’ve pulled our best and brightest. They have a good understanding of how network operations work.”

As Blue Cell fights an uphill battle in the cyber terrain, they will have the Gold Cell’s support. Lt. Col. Brad Rhodes, Gold Cell leader and commander of the Colorado Army National Guard’s Cyber Protection Team 174, said his team will provide struggling Blue Cell members with coaching and mentorship to help them learn and succeed.

“Our goal is that when the blue teams walk out of the door, they are feeling better about themselves and are more successful than when they first got here,” Rhodes said.

Red Cell leader Air National Guard Maj. Michael Ehrstein, who supervises the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron, said that Cyber Shield 17 fosters a learning environment by putting people of different backgrounds and levels of skill together. 

“People who’ve never done this before get one-on-one dedicated interactions with individuals who’ve been doing this 15-plus years,” Ehrstein said. “We are able to bring together experts from DoD, the government and the civilian world in one place and share that diverse perspective on cyberspace.”

“I’m very excited about being on a red team,” said Flo R. Bayer, a security analyst with the State of Wisconsin Department of Enterprise Technologies. “To see how hackers do things, their methodologies, will help me be better at defending the networks.” 

“You don’t get an opportunity to learn from a group of people like this often, to apply this skill set often,” said Adam Hellmers, an electrical engineer with Radiance Technologies. “It’s a chance to develop higher skills and to further enhance your own self, your company’s self and the national interests.” 

“The 2017 Cyber Shield exercise is far and away the best exercise I have ever encountered in my career,” Montgomery said. “It’s well organized; it’s well put together. And the teams, both red and blue, have made significant progress in securing DOD systems.”