FORT GORDON, Ga. -- Army Cyber Command plans to add more direct commissioned officers after its first two were recently sworn in as part of a five-year pilot to bolster the emerging force.
Since October, almost 250 applicants have applied for the Cyber Direct Commissioning Program, which allows talented civilians a fast track to becoming an officer.
Those who qualify have the opportunity to join the Army as first lieutenant, with the possibility of a higher rank in the near future pending a decision by Congress. Up to $65,000 in student loan repayment over the course of an officer's initial three-year term is also on the table to attract desired applicants.
"The cyber realm is developing at a speed really not seen in the traditional military career fields," said Brig. Gen. Neil Hersey, commandant of the Army Cyber School here. "We, the Army, think it's important to leverage the capability provided by the private sector to make our forces more ready and capable to combat the adversaries we're going to face now and in the future."
Most applicants have fallen into one of four categories, including prior-service enlisted military personnel, government employees and contractors, private sector workers, and academics.
Each category represents roughly a quarter of the applicants.
Desired skills and qualifications include experience in cybersecurity, software or hardware engineering, or product management. A four-year degree or higher in a computer science or related field, such as data science or industrial control systems, is also required.
At least seven applicants have already been recommended by a board for the program. The board plans to convene again in a few weeks to consider additional applicants who may one day protect networks.
"We need to have a very technically adept workforce to be able to do that and stay ahead of what's coming," Hersey said.
First Lts. James Gusman and Timothy Hennessy, both former enlisted Soldiers, were the first to be commissioned in early May.
In 2008, Gusman left the Army after serving in military intelligence to pursue higher education, and to ultimately find work in information technology and cybersecurity fields at major U.S. and international companies. When he heard of the program, he decided to sign up and do something more meaningful to him.
"On the commercial side, you're working for that one single organization and maybe helping their bottom line or keeping certain systems online," he said. "With the Army, you're keeping the United States online, you're keeping its citizens safe and you're creating something that's really making a difference in this world."
Those chosen for the program are commissioned upon arrival at the six-week direct commissioning course at Fort Benning, Georgia, which indoctrinates applicants into the Army.
Prospective officers typically go through Officer Candidate School, a 12-week-long course.
Once the direct commissioning course is completed, there is a 12-week Cyber Officer Basic Leadership Course here, which is more specialized to the career field. When a top-secret clearance is obtained, officers are then eligible for additional follow-on training.
Both Gusman and Hennessy plan to start the leadership course later this month.
Hennessy, a former signals intelligence analyst who became a cryptologic network warfare operator in the Army, is currently working on his master's degree in computer science.
"With the academic background I have, I would really like to help Soldiers who might not have that same background," he said. "I think that's a part I really can help develop for the Army. And any opportunity I get to roll up my sleeves and write some code and build some algorithms would be one that I would enjoy [too]."
The cyber direct commissioning program is similar to those the Army has for lawyers, doctors and chaplains.
The newest program was developed amid a push to strengthen the Army's role in the cyber domain, which senior leaders envision will be key in its future warfighting concept: multi-domain operations.
In early 2017, Army cyber also stood up a civilian cyberspace-effects career program for current and future government workers. The year before, Army leaders decided to move 29-series electronic warfare Soldiers into Cyber's 17-series career field by the end of this fiscal year.
"We have to be on our toes at all times," Hersey said of the career field. "As we've learned, the attacker has the advantage in the cyber realm. They only have to be right once. Us, as defenders, have to be right every single time.
"To that end, the Army is working on initiatives like the direct commissioning pilot program to make ourselves better and more ready to answer the call when things like that happen."