BALTIMORE -- In her remarks at the 2018 RSA conference in San Francisco, the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen described how she views the problem of cybersecurity, "We have a weakest link problem and the consequences affect us all."

According to the Leilehua High School CyberPatriot team that traveled here from Wahiawa, Hawaii, to compete in the CyberPatriot X National Finals competition at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor, April 15 to 18, the CyberPatriot program strengthens each participant by establishing a solid foundation for cyber defense -- eliminating the weakest link by strengthening each of the six participating team members.

The CyberPatriot team from Leilehua High School, the Mules, consists of six Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps (JROTC) cadets, their coach and a cadre of U.S. Army cyber Soldiers who are the team's mentors. The Mules are one of only 28 teams that were invited to the CyberPatriot X event out of the more than 5,500 teams registered to compete in the CyberPatriot program in 2017.

"These students are pioneers in our changing society, promoting responsible communication networks," said Sgt. Gregory Mills, a CyberPatriot mentor and the team's lead Windows instructor, from Detachment Hawaii, 782nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Cyber), based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. "What really benefits us as a society is for our citizens to have this knowledge going forward to inoculate themselves from computer viruses, from malware, and from threats to our communication networks in the same way that you inoculate your children against viruses."

The Soldiers from Detachment Hawaii have been mentoring the students since last fall. They are all volunteers and spend countless hours after their work day, twice a week, to prepare the young people not only for the competition, but a future in cybersecurity.

"CyberPatriot is really good at giving the students the tools and skills they need to give back to society, whether that is in the private industry or if it is in the military or government," said Spc. Jacob Cochran, CyberPatriot mentor and the team's lead Linux instructor, from Detachment Hawaii, 782nd MI Battalion. "CyberPatriot is teaching these students the foundational knowledge they need to give back to society and protect our communication networks."

According to the mentors, the six competing team members have nine hosts they need to secure, along with the full network stack, during the CyberPatriot competition.

"The competition is primarily defensive. The participants' job is to secure their networks and to secure their hosts," said Spc. Evan Wittman, the lead CyberPatriot mentor from Detachment Hawaii, 782nd MI Battalion. "The difference between National Finals and all the previous competitions leading up to the finals is there is no active red team during the competitions leading up to the National Finals, but here, for the first time they'll have to actively deal with people trying to break into their network, deface their websites, and break their servers."

Wittman and the other U.S. Army mentors believe the CyberPatriot program instructs high school and middle school students to perform basic tasks in cyber defense, which will enable their ability to perform these tasks when they get into the workforce, regardless if they join the military.

"At a very basic level, CyberPatriot will provide them with a general understanding for Windows, Linux, and Cisco," said Wittman. "They will identify a pathway that they enjoy, and as they proceed further up in the competition, if they get to finals, they will have a lot of opportunities in front of them -- internship offers and scholarship opportunities; and ultimately, that will contribute to the nation in some way, shape or form."

Lt. Col. (retired) Nicholas Spiridigliozzi, the Leilehua High School JROTC senior instructor and CyberPatriot team coach, believes that the CyberPatriot program not only gives the students a career path, but it is also a matter of national security.

"What the CyberPatriot program is doing is providing the future generation of cyber defense, security people, and leaders that will help keep this nation safe," said Spiridigliozzi. "We see it every day, the issues in cyberspace and cybersecurity, and it just continues to get worse and worse."

The CyberPatriot National Youth Education Program was created by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire K-12 students pursue careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines that are critical to our nation's future.