CHARLESTON, W. Va. - The West Virginia National Guard is pressing forward with out-of-the-box strategies to develop and build a cyber-trained work force able to be utilized by both the National Guard and civilian sector in areas such as vulnerability assessments, forensics analysis, critical infrastructure assessment and cyber security support.

With cyberattacks being hailed as one of the nation's biggest threats, WVNG leadership is working to combat the issue by creating opportunities for Soldiers and Airmen to train in the civilian sector, gaining knowledge, certifications and experience that can easily transfer to military cyber security.

"Despite the lack of force structure or any promise of a future mission set, the WVNG intends to grow organic capability through educational and training opportunities," said Lt. Col. Jody Ogle, WVNG director of communications. "There is a widening gap in skills and need. Even though we don't have the force structure in West Virginia, our state government and local industry partners still depend on the WVNG as a source of help and support in regard to cyber, just as they do for other events such as disasters. Furthermore, the WVNG is perfectly poised to produce highly qualified candidates for those positions."

One tool the Guard is using is a partnership with the University of Charleston's Cyber Security Program (CSP), a fairly new course of study that was developed in large part because of the relationship between the WVNG and the school, according to CSP Director Dr. Matthew D. Gonzalez.
"The Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security has a future focus of working with the Guard and others in the industry to keep an active program that fulfills their needs," Gonzales said.

This June, 20 Soldiers from the West Virginia Army National Guard's 620th Signal Company will be attending a course at UC to further develop their cyber skills. Upon completion, the Soldiers will have earned three certifications: Ethical Hacker, Incident Handler and Security Analyst.

One reason the WVARNG is seeking civilian training for its Soldiers is the quick turn-around time and because many of the certifications and qualifications overlap. With the correct education and experience, it's possible for Soldiers to gain a military occupational specialty (MOS) with little or no time spent at the Department of Defense training school, circumventing the lengthy and expensive reclassification process.
Capt. Emmett Schneider, commander of the 620th Signal Company, said that this training for his Soldiers is a good start in making sure the Guard has these capabilities.

"It's an uphill battle," Schneider said. "We need these skills now, we don't have time to incubate them … my job to get these people through this training and succeed. They have the test scores, now we need to get them trained with (cyber security) MOS skills."

Schneider said the WVNG adjutant general, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, and Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett before him, view the WVNG as an economic driver meant to help diversify the skills of the Guard and West Virginia's work force. Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, NASA's Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have offices in West Virginia, alongside state agencies that require cyber security knowledge.

"We have an opportunity here to create a highly skilled workforce of talented West Virginians who are able to meet the ever-changing demands of new and emerging threats in the digital era," said Hoyer. "The West Virginia National Guard is known for taking a leading role in developing working solutions for our state's needs. This is just another example of the importance of innovative thinking and strategic partnerships with our educational institutions that will have a lasting impact for the Mountain State."