Texas Guardsmen Mentor High School Competitors to First Place

Story by: Maj. Ray McCulloch

Posted On: February 3, 2016

Courtesy Photo From 71st TC
Courtesy Photo From 71st TC

CEDAR PARK, Texas - Texas Guardsmen from the 71st Theater Information Operations Group mentored students from Leander High School as they competed in the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot VIII competition, November 14-15, 2016 and December 4-6, 2016, at Corvalent’s office complex in Cedar Park, Texas. The Vista Ridge Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets vied against other United States and Department of Defense Education Activity high school students from around the globe for placement in the Platinum tier, which puts them on track to compete at the national level. The Vista Ridge team competed on multiple platforms – 1) Cisco, 2) a Windows Server, 3) a Windows workstation and 4) a Linux system.

Cyber Patriot is a national youth cyber education program. CyberPatriot was conceived by the AFA and works to inspire high school students towards careers in cyber security or other science, technology, engineering, or mathematics disciplines.

According to the CyberPatriot website, “At the center of CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. High school and middle school students work in teams and play the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. Teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services.”

“This opportunity is in a very technical field, and it requires [Information Technology] mentors,” said retired Cmdr. Rick Hamblet, the Vista Ridge Navy JROTC senior naval science instructor.

Only four of his 130 cadets were able to compete in the competition.

To help prepare these students, Maj. Tim Amerson, Sgt. 1st Class James Medlock and Sgt. 1st Class Jon Wachter, all of the 102nd Information Operations Battalion, 71st Tactical Information Operations Group volunteered to help.

Amerson serves as the Web Operations Security Team Chief in the 102nd Information Operations Battalion.

“We are the Technical Mentors for the Vista Ridge HS Naval [JROTC],” said Amerson. “We volunteer our own time teaching students how to be Cyber Network Defenders.”

Using their military experience, they helped prepare the cadets for this challenging competition.

In addition to the military members of the 102nd Information Operations Battalion., Ed Trevis, President and CEO of Corvalent, wanted to help. Corvalent produces ruggedized industrial computers. Corvalent partnered with Cdr. Hamblet and Vista Ridge for the CyberPatriot competition. Corvalent provided the location, computers, and network for the VR team.

“We at Corvalent wanted to make sure we invested in the future of our military and leaders,” said Ed. “They are the reason we are able to do what we do here.”

On November 14th, during Round 1 of the competition, the four juniors on the team had six hours to find as many security loopholes, breaches, or backdoors as possible in order to secure their computer images. With a max score of 200, the team garnered 190 points. On Dec. 6th, during Round 2, they had to repeat their success on three images, and complete a quiz. This time the team earned an unofficial score of 272, and 33 points - the maximum amount - for the Cisco quiz. Their combined scores placed them in first place for all Texas Navy JROTC teams, seventh in the nation among all Navy JROTC teams, and sixteenth out of 820 teams nationally.

"I can say we couldn't be more grateful. I feel like so far the National Guard and their participation in the program has been instrumental to how far we have gotten. So we really appreciate it,” said Mason Buettner, student team lead for Vista Ridge Navy JROTC’s CyberPatriot team.