By Master Sgt. Daniel GriegoJanuary 13, 2016
CEDAR PARK, Texas -- The Texas Army National Guard has a long history of community outreach and support. That legacy continued recently when Guardsmen shared their time and expertise to help prepare a local Texas high school team for an annual cybersecurity competition.
Members of the Texas Guard's 102nd General Support Battalion had the opportunity to mentor and support high school students as they prepared for and participated in CyberPatriot VIII, the annual National Youth Cyber Defense Competition sponsored by the Air Force Association. The online event took place November 13-15 and December 4-6, and featured high school and middle school students simulating newly hired IT professionals managing a network for a small company.
The three Guardsmen, Maj. Timothy Amerson and Sgts. 1st Class James Medlock and Jon Wachter, supported the four-student team from Vista Ridge High School's Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program with technical mentorship and equipment.
"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."
The Guardsmen learned of the school's competition from a shared military connection.
"A retired sergeant major and former network administrator at Camp Mabry (in Austin, Texas) told Major Amerson about the program," said Maj. Ray McCulloch, public affairs officer for the 102nd GSB. "That sergeant major got called for another mission out of state, and Major Amerson became the lead."
The 102nd is a battalion within the Army National Guard's 71st Theater Information Operations Group that specializes in cyber operations. The three Soldiers provided mentorship, training and troubleshooting examples, and donated servers, routers and network switches to the team.
Vista Ridge High School's JROTC is composed of 130 cadets, 10 of whom participate in the CyberPatriot program. Of those 10, four comprise the CyberPatriot VIII competition team. The competing youths are presented with simulations and tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities while maintaining critical services. The two preliminary rounds in November and December pitted the team against other Texas high school teams.
As with any competition, preparing for the cyber challenge takes practice, which can be a challenge. The primary issue for the team and their mentors is access to an unfiltered internet connection, said Amerson.
Corvalent, a local tech firm that produces rugged industrial computers, also helped the team. Corvalent president and CEO Ed Trevis developed a partnership with the Vista Ridge JROTC instructor, retired Coast Guard Commander Rick Hamblet, to provide practice space, computers and a training network for the students.
"We at Corvalent wanted to make sure we invested in the future of our military and leaders," said Trevis. "They are the reason we are able to do what we do here."
Their efforts paid off, as the team earned 190 of 200 possible points during November's Round 1 and 272 points of 300 and another 33 quiz points, in December's Round 2. These combined scores earned them a platinum placement going into the Regional Round scheduled for Feb. 19-21. There the Vista Ridge team will compete for one of the 12 available slots to advance to the National Finals April 10-14 in Baltimore, Md.
"I can say we couldn't be more grateful," said Mason Buettner, Vista Ridge High School CyberPatriot team captain. "I feel like the National Guard and their participation in the program have been instrumental to how far we have gotten. So we really appreciate it."