The Strategically Critical Cyber Airman

Chief Master Sgt. Linus Jordan, Air Force Space Command, command chief, discusses the role of Airmen as a strategically critical professional Cyber force for the nation during a panel discussion at Cyber 3.1 in Colorado Springs, April 8, 2013. (Air Force photo by Duncan Wood )

Chief Master Sgt. Linus Jordan, Air Force Space Command, command chief, discusses the role of airmen as a strategically critical professional Cyber force for the nation during a panel discussion at Cyber 3.1 in Colorado Springs. (Air Force photo by Duncan Wood )

Cyber airman development became the focus of discussion at Cyber 1.3 in Colorado Springs as Chief Master Sgt. Linus Jordan, command chief, Air Force Space Command, addressed space and cyber industry leaders at the conference prior to official opening of the 29th National Space Symposium.

Jordan, and a civilian aerospace leader, were participants in a moderated panel discussion that encouraged audience participation via e-mail.

The interactive forum quickly moved through topics including youth interest in an evolving cyber culture, common talent pool recruitment considerations, challenges of long-term development of a professional cyber force, and the critical roles of cyber-trained airmen.

Jordan invested in developing cyber airmen, both as command chief for the Air Force major command, and as a father of an airman in the cyber operations career field.

He challenged common assumptions that people fall into only the popular categories of digital native or digital immigrant.  Jordan offered a third category: the digitally disadvantaged.

“There are demographics in our country where young people, or people of any age, may not have had the opportunity – educationally or economically – to be exposed to technology…to have the opportunity to use and leverage technology.”

“Just because someone was born into an era, doesn’t mean they experienced what that era was all about, “said Jordan.

Before cyber professionals, airmen or civilians, can be recruited and developed, young people must be aware of, interested in and somewhat familiar with the cyber culture. Chief Jordan emphasized the need for a national focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, citing Air Force support of the annual CyberPatriot competition as an example of a positive experience in STEM areas.

CyberPatriot is a national high school cyber defense competition designed to inspire high school students to aspire to STEM degrees and cybersecurity careers.

“There is goodness in that type of program (CyberPatriot) for those young Americans, whether they join our team or not, because it exposes them to what the opportunities of the future may be,” Chief Jordan said. “More importantly, it reinforces just how critically important STEM is to them as individuals and to us as a nation.”

The panelists took questions during the session and one participant asked, “If the demands of the cyber domain are so different compared to traditional military domains, does application of traditional military standards still make sense?”

Jordan was quick to respond.

Airmen are airmen first. Just like soldiers, Marines, sailors, they are military professionals first, regardless of their technical discipline and expertise — especially in an environment as complex as cyber is for us today. We have to have professionals who are trained to a common level of discipline, standards, understanding and behavior before we can entrust them with the responsibilities and authorities that we do, in an environment as dynamic and complex as cyber,” said Jordan.

“The last thing you want is someone who does not have that standard grounding to operate autonomously in that mission area. It can very quickly have national security-level implications. Given our current workforce, we entrust our most junior enlisted airmen and our most junior company grade officers with some pretty significant responsibilities in this mission area,” said Jordan.

“Without that fundamental thread of training, discipline, and standards that runs through every airman, we set ourselves up for failure. Cyber is one of those areas that changes too quickly, is too important and too pervasive to take chances with.”

Jordan concluded by discussing the role of cyber airmen deployed to the combatant commands.

These Americans are warriors. Though they may typically serve in an operations center, or some other obscure location, at the end of the day, they are as prone to deploy into harm’s way to support national security as anyone else,” said Jordan. “As the combatant commands around the world continue to learn what cyber warriors bring to the fight, we see more and more requests for forces placing cyber airmen ‘boots on ground’ to support combatant commanders. When we talk about cyber and space warriors, we cannot allow ourselves to think that these are airmen ‘removed from the fight’. Regardless of where they sit, more important than anything, are the capabilities that these professionals bring to bear in execution of national security.”

by Senior Master Sgt. Dean J. Miller, www.af.mil
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs

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