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Wanted: Cyber Soldiers
They don’t just make movies about this career. The world of cyber is also an Army field that leads to some of the most profitable (and plentiful) civilian job opportunities. It’s open to just about everybody, without years of training required. In today’s non-standard battlespace, this field will play an increasingly crucial role at the forefront of the nation’s defenses.
So whether you’re driven by a desire to have a stable civilian career or make a difference in an exciting technological field, cyber careers are increasingly worth a look.
This diverse group of Soldiers guarding one of our nation’s greatest assets—our information superhighway—is highly trained and highly sought-after in the civilian market. But what do you actually know about this field? Maybe not as much as you think.
There are over a dozen 25 series “Communications and Information Systems” Military Occupational Specialties, each employing tech in some way on the battlefield. Most require a security clearance and a certain ASVAB score. Some, like the 25M Multimedia Illustrator or 25R Visual Information Equipment Operator, are more audio/visual (AV) than information technology (IT). Here are a couple of the Army’s most forward-facing cyber jobs.
25B Information Technology Specialist
Required: ASVAB ST: 95
AIT: 19 weeks at Fort Gordon, GA
Description: These are the IT generalists who maintain computer systems and networks. They update and install software, perform basic tasks on government computers, and assist your unit with all computer-related tasks.
25N Nodal Network Systems Operator-Maintainer
Required: ASVAB SC: 105 & EL: 102
AIT: 3 weeks at Fort Gordon
Description: The 25N is an infrastructure expert, equivalent to an entry-level network hardware installer. This Soldier installs and maintains the equipment necessary to create military networks.
Path to leadership: The more technical Army jobs are reserved for senior Soldiers who have put in their time as line-level operators and maintainers. These senior leaders are given advanced missions, along with the training that is required to perform them.
25D Cyber Network Defender
Required: ASVAB 105 on GT and ST, and several experience and training requirements
AIT: N/A—not an entry-level MOS
Description: The 25D network safety expert. These senior-level cyber experts perform proactive and reactive missions keeping Army networks safe from unauthorized use or access. They protect infrastructure, analyze data and provide guidance and assessments for network personnel.
255A Information Systems Technician Warrant Officer
Required: ASVAB GT score of 110, and several stringent testing/real-world experience requirements
AIT: N/A—not an entry-level MOS
Description: The warrant officer is a technical and tactical expert. The 255A is an expert at networking, LAN and wireless network administration, and in all of the operational and installation requirements of basic and advanced computer networks and systems.
Cyber defense: Warrant Officer 1 Shari Simzyk is a 255A in the Georgia National Guard and serves on its new Cyber Protection Team (CPT). Units like the Georgia CPT contain experienced specialists (including the MOSs listed on this page) and are being created in key states across the country to perform high-level missions, like responding to potential attacks by cyberterrorists. “I am slotted in the Mission Protect Section, or ‘Blue Team,’ ” she says. “We focus on defending the network—finding vulnerabilities and addressing known incidents or issues. [When we find them], we either perform the technical implementation of tools or policies, or recommend changes within that network or system infrastructure.”
GREEN HATS TO WHITE HATS
One of the most appealing aspects of a Guard cyber career is that the civilian side of the industry is growing by leaps and bounds, with higher-than-average wages available for jobs with many skill sets that the Guard can provide. Here are a few reasons the green hat to white hat transition works so well for so many:
Reason 1: Government contracting is a huge source of employment in the cybersecurity world. Experience and familiarity with military and government networks are extraordinarily appealing qualities to government contractors.
Reason 2: The majority of cyber careers in the Guard require a current government security clearance. That clearance alone will get you in the door for a ton of job possibilities (including non-cyber opportunities).
Reason 3: The military’s emphasis on credentialing means you can use your military training and experience to qualify for many industry-standard credentials. Those include the CompTIA Security+ certification and the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional certifications. You can save thousands of dollars while getting these certifications that also set you up for lucrative civilian jobs.
Reason 4: The real-world experience you get from the Guard can make you a more valuable asset to cyber industry companies than someone with only school training. “The transition [from Guard to civilian] is easy as long as the person is proactive and motivated,” Simzyk says. “And the Guard will definitely set Soldiers up for a civilian career.”
The following scenarios are hypothetical, but they’re based on real-life missions that happen around the world. Soldiers in cyber fields fill critical roles in almost every unit in the Army.
Commo when it’s needed most
The tornado hit 27 minutes ago, but Sergeant Alpha’s unit has been on the ground for the last 12. There isn’t a cellphone tower standing within 10 miles of Alpha and the other Disaster Incident Response Emergency Communications Terminal (DIRECT) team members. But when they are finished, commo will be up not just for the Guard but for the hundreds of first responders who currently can’t talk to one another.
Responding to a DDoS
The Army hospital computer network that Staff Sergeant Bravo helps manage is receiving massive traffic, which appears to be coming from a foreign nation as part of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Her network is overwhelmed, and a firewall keeps locking up. Bravo reroutes internal traffic to a predetermined secure proxy and informs command her network has been switched to a backup IP address. Her problem-solving skills restore access to critical data for hundreds of Soldiers.
Laying cable in an African jungle
When he took command of his platoon of 25L Cable Systems Installer/Maintainers, First Lieutenant Charlie was disappointed. He was not interested in a desk job. But today, he’s in a highly classified location in the African jungle, where Special Forces Soldiers are providing security. As engineers build the growing outpost’s infrastructure, Charlie’s team is laying cable for a satellite communications system that will provide the SF Group’s leadership with full battlefield situational awareness.
CYBER FICTION VS. FACT
Fiction: Cyber careers are all computer jobs—and you never leave your office building.
Fact: Computers might be the primary tool for many cyber Soldiers, but they employ them in some of the most remote and demanding locales in the world.
Fiction: Cyber careers are for nerds.
Fact: Cyber careers are for problem-solvers, forward thinkers, hard workers, high earners and overachievers. They involve hands-on engineering, heavy lifting and even manual labor.
Fiction: A technology-driven career means sitting in front of a computer all day.
Fact: Networking capabilities have been so deeply integrated into the Army’s battle capabilities that we practically couldn’t function without them. Who do you think sets up and maintains the network and tech gear for the more forward units?
Fiction: Cyber careers aren’t for females.
Fact: There are tremendous opportunities in the civilian market for female cyber security, IT and programming experts. Thousands of companies around the country are interested in adding female team members.
HOW TO GET IN
With the Guard’s plans to establish Cyber Protection Teams throughout the country—three CPTs (Georgia, California and a Michigan/Ohio/Indiana partnership group) were to be activated in fiscal year 2016 and another seven are expected to be developed in the next two fiscal years—Simzyk says this is a good time to jump into the cyber field.
“It is possible to start from scratch in a few different MOSs [with no previous IT experience],” she says.
“Now is the time to inquire about being in a cyber unit [as they’re being formed across the country].”
The process of changing your MOS to a cyber career is like any other MOS change—to start the process, talk to your readiness NCO.
For more information on cyber and other high-tech jobs in the Guard, go to www.NATIONALGUARD.com/cybersoldiers