By Maj. Aaron Testa, 110th Information Operations Battalion, Public Affairs OfficerDecember 13, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md.-- The Maryland National Guard's first-ever Cyber and Information Operations Symposium was held at the Annapolis Readiness Center in Annapolis, Maryland, Nov. 19, 2017.
The event, hosted by the 110th IO Battalion, provided opportunities for Maryland's experts in the IO and cyber fields to share information and build relationships as they work together to meet the unique challenges of today's dynamic threat environment.
The day's program addressed how IO and cyber missions support domestic operations and overseas contingency operations, how these missions are expected to evolve, and what IO and cyber professionals can to do to build and maintain their skillsets going forward.
There were three panels where experts in IO and cyber could share their experiences in their fields, in the Guard, and during deployments.
Capt. Morgan Shepherd, commander of the 110th IO Battalion's Field Support Company, has deployed in the past as an IO planner to Djibouti and was responsible for moderating a panel about IO in the Horn of Africa.
"My goal was to make sure the company grade officers and junior NCOs in the audience understood the value of IO, especially those who are just being introduced to it and are not clear exactly what IO is or how it is valuable," said Shepherd.
Other sessions included information on the new 169th Cyber Protection Team, cyber exercises, opportunities for warrant officers, the importance of IO in dealing with today's threat environment, and the importance of IO and cyber for the State of Maryland.
"The symposium gave us an opportunity to listen to different perspectives and lessons learned," said symposium attendee Capt. Michael Green, an electronic warfare officer new to the 110th IO Battalion. "We need to hear how the doctrine is applied in the real world to gain a better understanding about what is important."
Likewise, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Samara Scheckman, a signals intelligence chief for the 29th Infantry Division, gained insight into the cyber and IO fields in the Maryland Guard.
"This was a great opportunity to gain awareness of the growth of both cyber and IO in the Maryland Army National Guard," said Scheckman. "It's important for units with mutually supporting missions, intelligence in particular, to have more opportunity to share experiences through programs like this."
Scheckman, said soldiers often rely on word of mouth to learn about a unit or its mission. She said that the symposium helped dispel myths and gain correct information directly from the unit's leadership.
"This symposium opened doors for soldiers who are not already involved in IO and cyber units to learn about the mission and seek opportunities to support it," said Scheckman, who noted that both unit and state leadership acknowledged during the symposium the challenge of recruiting and retaining the talent required to successfully support the cyber and IO missions.
The symposium was originally planned as a means for cyber and IO professionals in the Maryland National Guard to meet and share experiences.
However, there was an unexpected large turnout from other soldiers who work in cyber or IO in their civilian jobs and are now looking to learn more about opportunities in these fields in the Guard.
"Very interesting twist," said Lt. Col. Kristine Henry, the commander of the 110th IO Battalion.
"Today's threat environment dictates that we must understand information as a joint warfighting function and cyber as an operational domain," said Henry, the driving force behind the symposium.
The Maryland Army National Guard has been working in the cyber and information environment since 2008, prior to the Department of Defense declaring cyberspace an operational domain akin to the land, sea, air, and space domains.
With the arrival of Maryland's new Army Cyber Protection Team, events like the Cyber and IO Symposium are important now, said Henry who has been working hard to set up the new team for success.
"We have to provide opportunities for young and innovative minds from different units to synchronize capabilities and work together to provide effects," said Henry. "We need to empower young leaders in this space and encourage an overall understanding of IO and Cyber for those who may not be comfortable with this new kind of the battlefield."
Henry observed another outcome during the event.
"I think that having a forum for panelists to speak about their deployment experience meant a lot to the panel participants," said Henry. "It seemed almost therapeutic for them to have an audience interested in hearing what they had to say about a field that is so often misunderstood."
The Maryland National Guard's Senior Enlisted Advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Beyard, and the Commander of the 58th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, Col. Julie Minde, provided keynote addresses during the symposium.
The event would not have been possible without the support and encouragement from Col. Minde, said Henry. She is also grateful for the support of state leadership, especially Command Sgt. Major Beyard, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Tywanda B. Morton, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 David L. Wiggins.
Due to an overwhelmingly positive response, the Cyber and IO Symposium will be back in 2018 with hopes to include members of the Maryland Air National Guard and Maryland Defense Force.
For more information about the 110th Information Operations Battalion, to learn how to become a part of the unit, or for any interview requests, contact the unit's Public Affairs Officer, Maj. Aaron Testa, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (330) 304-2867.