BALTIMORE -- Soldiers from Detachment Hawaii (DET HI), 782nd Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion, mentored and led a high school team to the CyberPatriot IX, National Finals Competition, at Baltimore's Hyatt Regency, April 3 to 5.

Although the Leilehua High School CyberPatriot team from Wahiawa, Hawaii, did not finish in the top three in their All Service division, according to Bernie Skoch, the CyberPatriot national commissioner, an NCAA team has a better chance of reaching the Final Four than a high school CyberPatriot team.

"The biggest sporting event over the past couple months has been the March Madness, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and given the size of the field, for women or for men, the probability of a team reaching the Final Four is about 1.2 percent," said Skoch. "We had 4,404 (teams) when we started this season. We are down to 28. The probability of a team being here tonight is not 1.2 percent, it's 0.6 percent."

The team's name and school mascot, is the "Mules," and consisted of CyberPatriot members and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps' cadets: Tyler McWilliams, ninth-grader, Jacob Huerta, 10th-grader, Jarod Olive-Stalling Jr., 10th-grader, and Brandon Unrein, 12th-grader. The team's coach is retired Army Lt. Col. Nick Spiridigliozzi, the Leilehua High School JROTC senior instructor.

"If it wasn't for the mentors, we wouldn't have made it this far," said Olive-Stalling. "Everything we do, we're going to do in the future."

The Soldiers from DET HI, 782nd MI Battalion, have been mentoring high school students to compete in the Air Force Association's CyberPatriot program since the 2015-2016 school year.

Spc. Evan Wittman is the lead mentor, and although other DET HI cyberspace Soldiers have volunteered their time, after work and on weekends, to mentor the students, due to funding and other mission requirements, he was joined in Baltimore by Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) Lee Unrein, father of Cadet Unrein, and Spc. Jacob Cochran.

"The youth are our future leaders and problem solvers. Developing students' interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) will pay dividends for our Service, Corps and nation," said CW3 Unrein. "Watching the cadets and my son learn and grow has been very rewarding."

Although being a CyberPatriot team member has its benefits, there is also a tremendous amount of research and studying, above and beyond the student's regular class work.

"They give us extra work, besides our homework, so when we come to practice we really know what we're talking about," said Huerta. "Without them, we probably wouldn't be here, so we're really appreciative."

During the CyberPatriot IX, National Finals Competition, each student was able to use what they were taught by their mentors.

"My mentor, Wittman, he really helped me out with networking. Networking is pretty complicated. You have to know a lot of commands, so during the competition, I could easily go through routers and switches and set them up perfectly so it works for everybody," said Cadet Huerta.

"I've had three mentors teach me about Linux: Spc. (Joshua) Abraham, Spc. Cochran, and 1st Lt. (Benjamin) Allison," said Cadet McWilliams. "They taught me all about Linux, to include system development from Unix, and Man Commands that I can use to defend a system running on Linux."

"The mentors make sure we understand it, and push us to keep trying and learning, and we've gotten so far with their help," added Cadet Unrein. "I used Wireshark to trace all the traffic that comes over the computer. It pretty much keeps a massive log of every packet that goes through and it can tell you what people tried to do, where they came from, the IP address…it's pretty much a way to figure out if someone was trying to connect when they weren't supposed to."

Spc. Cochran encourages other Soldiers to support the program. He has fun mentoring the students, but more importantly, he feels he is making a difference in their lives by helping them further their education and prepare for the future.

"I enjoy working with the kids. I love seeing that light when they get it and they start connecting it," said Cochran. "When I was at their age, I didn't know nearly as much as they do now."

In addition to the mentor training, each CyberPatriot student gets a NetAcad (Network Academy) account sponsored by Cisco. They have access to various training modules that teach network fundamentals, switch and router basics, access control lists, firewalls, Adaptive Security Appliance (a Cisco program), the Internet of Things, and Linux basics. Once students complete the courses, Cisco give them with a certificate of completion. According to the mentors, the certificates will look really good on a student's resume and provide them with an advantage over their peers.

"It does help them go out and get a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certificate," said Unrein. "It'd be very interesting to see how the curriculum at our school houses compare to what the cadets receive in the CyberPatriot program. (Regardless), it gives them a leg up when they come to a military AIT."

Though this season was the CyberPatriot program's ninth year, event organizers hope to expand the program and bring in more young women.

"We high-five this year with 4,404 teams," said Skoch. "(However) there are 34,000 high schools in the United States, and an equal number of middle schools."

The 780th MI Brigade hopes to expand their support as well.

"There's an opportunity, given the geographic dispersion of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade, to expand our partnership with our local communities and the high school JROTC CyberPatriot progams," said Lt. Col. Chris Longo, deputy commander, 780 MI Brigade. "We have elements, not only in Hawaii, but in San Antonio, Augusta, Georgia, and here at Fort Meade, Maryland."

Although Cadet Unrein will graduate from Leilehua High School later this year, and plans to study cybersecurity at either Towson University in Maryland, or the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the other three cadets, with their mentors help, expect to return to the CyberPatriot National Finals competition next year…and their mentors are already planning for it.

"Next year we'll definitely do more packet analysis with Wireshark, forensics, steganography," said CW3 Unrein. "I would also train the students on scripting and programming. Start developing that young. It better prepares them for college. In fact, high schools offer Java programming, CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)…it's really amazing what they offer to the kids now days."