The Army Cyber Center of Excellence's Army Cyber School reached a major milestone last week.
Thirty-one newly commissioned lieutenants began the cyber school's first-ever Cyber Basic Officer Leader Course Aug. 6. They will become the Army's first group of cyber operations officers. "With the transition of the Signal Center of Excellence to the Cyber Center of Excellence, this is a pretty important milestone because this is the growth of the mission, and these officers really do represent a tangible piece of that growth and transition," said Col. Jennifer Buckner, U.S. Army Cyber School commandant.
When Fort Gordon unveiled the Cyber School last August, Buckner was well aware she and her developing staff had their work cut out for them. Creating a course -- much less a branch -- from the ground up was no easy task that required a great deal of expertise. And as daunting as it may have seemed at times, Buckner had complete confidence in her team, noting they were in a good place -- literally and figuratively speaking.
"We really take advantage of our colocation and partnership here with the Signal School, and we also have a close relationship with the Intelligence Center of Excellence, and then of course our connection to the Cyber Mission Force (at National Security Agency Georgia)," Buckner said. "It's perfectly positioned and partnered."
The Cyber BOLC is 37 weeks, making it the longest officers' training program in the Army and nearly double the length of others, said Capt. Sam Thode, Cyber BOLC course manager.
Over the course, officers will learn technical and operational skills that will prepare them for taking over positions within the cyber force. Much of their training results in certifications that can travel with them throughout their military -- and in some cases -- post-military careers.
One of the first and more technical pieces of training officers receive is the Cisco Certified Network Associate program. Next, they train for their Certified Information Security Systems Professional certification, which is a 10-day program that "prepares them for what they'll be doing at a managerial level for protecting network systems," Thode explained. From there, students will learn the military decision making process with a cyber focus during the Army Cyber Operations Planner Course.
The final and most technical training they will receive is Cyber Common Technical Core.
"That is going to give them a lot of the hands-on experience and the practice that they're going to need to provide them the skills to oversee the operators who they'll be leading and working with when they get out to mission force," Thode said.
Each officer must also participate in an ongoing research project throughout the course that will either support the Cyber School and its mission or the Cyber Mission Force and their mission. The course finishes with a capstone exercise.
" The intent of our capstone exercise is to make sure that they understand what lieutenants will experience in their various work roles," said Maj. Charlie Lewis, director of the Cyber Leader College.
All Cyber BOLC graduates will become part of the Army Cyber Mission Force, with about half staying here at Fort Gordon, and the other half going to Fort Meade, Maryland.
"As we expand to include more of the electronic warfare and cyber, we'll also see some of these officers going to tactical units as well," Buckner said.
The current Cyber BOLC cohort will soon be followed by a group of captains in the fall and warrant officers next spring who will transition to the cyber branch through the Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program. Of the 1,200- plus officers who applied and submitted packets for a seat in the Cyber School, only about 300 were selected. Thode and Lewis were two of them.
"It's a fairly competitive process … so indicative of the strong technical and operational talent that we have across the Army," Buckner said.
Reflecting on his time at West Point, Lewis was involved in evaluating some of those talents before the cyber branch stood up. Many of those talents, he said, are currently attending Cyber BOLC.
"If you think about how ready they have to be to go into the force, how quickly this is stood up … to me, it's amazing in the fact that all of the lieutenants are here, and they're eager to learn something that they didn't even know really existed," Lewis said. "They're extremely intelligent and understand where they need to go. It's going to be exciting to see where they end up at the end of May."