Communications flight fulfills untraditional role during Cyber Shield 2023

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica Roles
  • 189th Airlift Wing

     Through the mass of cyber operators and defenders during Cyber Shield 2023, one group of participants held strong even without a traditional cyber background. As blue and red teams battled within the cyber domain, 15 Airmen from the 189th Communications Flight supported the exercise by using skills bridged between the flight and the 223rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron to protect and defend the simulated network.

     Over the course of four years, the 223rd CYOS and the 189th CF have been bench-building a close relationship that benefits both the state and the wing. The initiative continues to provide training to Guardsmen on the digital platform.

     “Increasing reliance on digital systems and the growing threat landscape requires a greater awareness of the importance of cybersecurity within military organizations,” said Maj. Rick Sugg, the 189th Communications Flight commander. “We recognize the need to strengthen our cybersecurity capabilities to protect critical infrastructure and sensitive information.”

     Skill gaps, including a lack of specialized cybersecurity expertise or inadequate training, effectively promoted the need for a targeted initiative to develop adequate personnel to address threats. Because of the recognized need, leadership from the communications flight, cyber squadron, and other agencies collaborated and identified future requirements, formulating a strategy to provide the necessary avenues to build skilled cyber operators.

     While the encompassing idea of a communications flight supporting their own enclave during Cyber Shield 2023 does not seem much different than the other enclaves that participated, the team showcased the effort and teamwork between the two wing units with their presence and tenacity. The collaboration and training enabled them to be extremely competitive during the exercise, placing them ahead of traditional cyber enclaves.

     “The 189th CF leverages every opportunity the 223rd CYOS provides to train and develop potential cyber defense operators above and beyond job qualification requirements,” Sugg said. “The flight uses Cyber Shield for Airmen to understand potential scenario complexity, utilize and develop their skills, execute operations, and grasp the complete picture surrounding a cyber event. The valuable experience, collaboration, and retention support afforded to my Airmen through Cyber Shield are immeasurable.”

      The skills learned from this dynamic partnership enhance the capabilities of the wing and state in the realm of cybersecurity and domestic response. Some of the benefits include: ensuring communications and cyber Guardsmen have the skills and knowledge to protect and defend the wing’s digital infrastructure effectively; building an organized, trained, and equipped cyber pool to pull from in the event of a cyber emergency; better preparation to maintain mission-critical functions in the face of cyber incidents, and ensuring the wing and state can continue operations without significant disruption.

     “The efforts of the 189th CF have drastically increased the state’s readiness posture in regards to a domestic cyber event,” said Lt. Col. Jason Kuala, the 223rd CYOS commander. “The diligent efforts by their team have provided a force multiplier to our state’s cyber response force by providing advanced training, certifications, and teaching them to have an operational mindset. Given these efforts, one would have a very difficult time differentiating a member of their team from a cyber warfare operator. I look forward to this continued collaboration between organizations and hope to have the opportunity to do this same with other organizations across the state.”