BALTIMORE -- In his remarks at the 2018 RSA cyber security conference in San Francisco, April 17, Microsoft President Brad Smith said, "We recognize that we live in a new world. We're living amidst a generation of new weapons, and where cyberspace has become the new battlefield."

If cyberspace has become the new battlefield, the high school and middle school students participating in the Air Force Association's CyberPatriot X National Finals competition at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor, April 15 through 18, are the next generation of cyber warriors.

Students from Leilehua High School, located in Wahiawa, Hawaii, recently competed in the CyberPatriot X National Finals competition to test their cyber defense skills against the best high school teams in the country.

The Leilehua Mules, the team name and school mascot, are one of only 28 teams invited to the event out of more than 5,500 schools that registered to compete in the Air Force Association's national youth cyber defense competition in 2017. To be invited, the team had to compete in multiple rounds of online challenges, a state round and then excel in the semi-final round.

"CyberPatriot is the premier national high school cyber defense competition in the country," said Lt. Col. (retired) Nicholas Spiridigliozzi, the Leilehua High School Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) senior instructor and CyberPatriot team coach. "It is very competitive and more challenging since we started doing this in 2010. It has grown in the number of teams and also in complexity. The young people now are much more challenged than they were seven years ago which is a good thing in my mind."

Spiridigliozzi offered two bits of advice for other schools to be successful in the AFA CyberPatriot program.

"For any CyberPatriot program to be successful you have to have great mentors. You can have great students, motivated and dedicated students, but if they don't have the trainers than you are going to struggle," said Spiridigliozzi. "The mentors that we have here, and I've seen a lot of mentors, are definitely some of the best in the nation."

The mentors for the Leilehua High School JROTC CyberPatriot team are cyber-trained Soldiers from Detachment Hawaii, 782nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Cyber), based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The Soldiers are all volunteers who train the students in cybersecurity at least twice a week during the school year after their work day.

Additionally, Spiridigliozzi remarked that the support of the school principal is equally just as important.

"Principal Jason Nakamoto is a big force multiplier for the Leilehua JROTC CyberPatriot team," said Spiridigliozzi. "He supports everything that we do, is engaged with everything that we do, and provides the needed resources for us to be successful. Principal Jason Nakamoto has played a critical role in our success," said Spiridigliozzi.

For the six cadets from the Leilehua High School JROTC CyberPatriot team, the CyberPatriot program and competition has been an opportunity. Each of the students plans on attending college; however, their paths into the cybersecurity workforce vary.

Cadet Jacob Huerta, a junior and the team captain, aspires to be an aerospace engineer. His focus area during the competition was the security of the overall network and leading the Leilehua Mules CyberPatriot team. "My focus is on the networking portion, which is connecting a bunch of devices together so they can communicate," said Huerta. "I protect it and I can set up a defense so nothing can get into the area. I was trained to use Cisco Packet Tracer, which is a network simulation and visualization tool."

Cadet Christian Villarreal, a junior, wants to become a cyber defender for either the National Security Agency or the Air Force. He originally joined the program as an elective, but he soon realized he found cybersecurity very interesting. "Metasploit, a penetration testing software, helps a lot," said Villarreal. "It has a lot of problems that can easily be identified and helps you figure out different ways to fix them."

Cadet Jarod Olive-Stalling, Jr., a junior, wants to become a Naval officer and work in cybersecurity. His focus area has been serving as the Windows administrator. "The mentors are training me on how to make my system secure," said Olive-Stalling. "How to make sure all the passwords are protected, how to make sure my users and interfaces are good and there is no hacking involved."

Cadet Tyler McWilliams, a sophomore, wants to follow in his family's footsteps and join the Army. He plans on becoming a cybersecurity operations officer. His focus area is the Linux operating system, more commonly known as ubuntu or the debian. "I am learning to secure those different operating systems and to secure vulnerabilities," said McWilliams. "I eradicate malware and dangerous software that most people wouldn't know about."

Cadet McCain Compton, a sophomore, is thinking of joining the Air Force under the special forces' branch. His area of expertise is the bridge between Windows and Linux. "I am part of the defense," said Compton. "What I do is find vulnerabilities and things that do not fit the baseline of what a computer should be and I fix that."

Cadet Daniel Brink, a sophomore, is the only team member who doesn't want to start out in cybersecurity. His career aspiration is to join the U.S. Army and become an Armor officer. "I spend a lot of time on computers and I really wanted to learn how to basically watch over my own computer, and CyberPatriot really helps with that," said Brink.

However, Spiridigliozzi says that CyberPatriot is not just a competition. The program benefits the cyber workforce and ultimately the cybersecurity of the United States.

"CyberPatriot not only gives students a career path, but it's also a matter of national security," said Spiridigliozzi. "We must continue to 'grow' our young people in cybersecurity as it is a critical piece to the future of our nation."