By Gary SheftickOctober 12, 2016
"I'm a gadget kind of guy," Potter said. That inclination has helped him shape the Army's Cyber Branch and career field. He was the Army's first Electronic Warfare proponent sergeant major and one of the first senior NCOs in the Cyber Branch.
"Most of my cyber experience is self-taught," he said.
His first computer was an IBM PC Junior. His father, who worked for IBM, brought one home. "We had a computer even before anybody in the schools had computers," Potter remembered.
One of the first games he played was "Zork," a text-based game with no graphics. Now he plays first-person shooter games with his son Jordan.
Potter began his Army career as a chemical operations specialist. But even back then, he was interested in cyber and was building his own computers in his spare time. Building computers was fun, he said, "because you could always push the envelope" on power and innovations.
"It was more of a hobby for me," Potter said, "and then when I was given the opportunity to do it as a career. It was a no-brainer for me."
While serving in Iraq in 2007, he and other Soldiers from his section networked their computers together to play games like Halo when they were off duty. During his Iraq deployment, he was injured and had to receive a wrist fusion.
Unable to continue serving as a chemical reconnaissance platoon sergeant, he became an electronic warfare NCO in 2009. Then about two years ago, as one of the senior EW noncommissioned officers, he was offered the opportunity to help build the Cyber Branch.
"I went around the Army and talked to all the people we were going to convert through the process to become the newly created 17 Charlies and 170 Alphas," he said.
With his background working with maneuver units on chemical reconnaissance and electronic warfare, he was well suited for the position. The vision for the Cyber Branch was to create a maneuver force with a "maneuver mindset."
"Having a background working with maneuver units," he said, "has really benefitted me from the perspective of what I do ... [which is] really to blend the technical understanding with the operational mindset as we go forward."
Potter is now the operations sergeant major for the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Maryland. He's just down the street from the Cyber Command, and he's still helping set up the Army's Cyber force.
"The recruiting of the force is unique. It's not only about identifying aptitude, but, even more important, is [identifying] the desire and motivation," he said.
"You don't have to have the innate skills. You have to have the aptitude and the desire, because the training is world-class."
The skills are taught in the six-month joint school at Corry Station, Florida, near Pensacola Naval Air Station. The six-month training will soon be extended to a year, he said, as the Army stands up Phase II of the course at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
The initial Phase II class is scheduled to get underway this spring, Potter said. Students will still attend the first phase at Corry Station with their counterparts from other services and then proceed to the Army Cyber School for the service-specific training.
Even with all the training, Potter said, what a young Soldier coming into the branch really needs is "a desire to be innovative and be at the leading edge of change, as the Army transitions and focuses more on the cyber domain as we go forward."
Potter's eldest daughter, Alexa, 18, plans to join the Army soon, he said. She wants to be a 31K dog-handler, though. But his 13-year-old son Jordan, is a "huge gamer" and interested in cyber. The two of them bond over computer games, but they also enjoy hiking and biking together.
"I like playing [games] with my son," Potter said. "It's more of a bonding thing, if you would."
Around the Christmas holidays, Potter likes to return with his family to Binghamton, where he first began building computers as a high school student, to spend time with extended family.