By Mike MilordJanuary 9, 2019
Two Cyber Protection Brigade, or CPB, Soldiers are now the first to become airborne qualified while assigned to their battalion, having completed the three-week Army airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., in mid-December.
While cyber operations are typically conducted in remote secure locations, having airborne-qualified cyber Soldiers provides the Army with a capability to give direct cyber support to the battlefield commander as an operation begins. The Army continues to improve this capability as it recognizes the value of placing cyber Soldiers forward.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael L. Butler and Sgt. Drew C. Madsen, 1st Cyber Protection Battalion, CPB, Fort Gordon, Ga., were given the opportunity to learn to jump from an airplane, survive and operate as part of the Army's ground forces.
"There are a handful of other Soldiers who are airborne qualified; we are the first two from the battalion since its inception," said Butler.
Nearly 25 percent of 1,000 cyber officers are airborne qualified, and 15 percent of the 1,500 enlisted Soldiers are airborne qualified, cited by data from the Army Human Resources Command Cyber branch.
For Butler, a cyber operations planner, becoming airborne qualified was a professional and personal goal.
"I've always thought it would be fun to jump from a high-performance aircraft," said Butler. "Once you jump out the door, you have no choice but to trust your equipment and training.
"I always heard about it from noncommissioned officers when I was coming up as a young 'Joe.' Where else can you really do that, especially with combat gear?"
Butler said part of his motivation goes back to the nature of soldiering.
"It's pretty physically demanding," said Butler. "It goes back to one of the core Army standards -- physical fitness.
Butler earned a bachelor's degree in Computer Networks and Cybersecurity from the University of Maryland, is proficient in Windows/Linux Operating Systems and has some experience as a network analyst.
Butler began his Army service in 2001 with the 25th Infantry Division, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, followed by assignments with the 17th Fires Brigade, Fort Lewis, Wash., and 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan., before being assigned to Fort Gordon.
Madsen, a three-year cyber operations specialist, said becoming airborne qualified has been one of his goals since joining the Army.
"Airborne is something that I've always wanted to do," said Madsen. "It's just part of joining the Army.
"We do a lot technically in cyber. I also want to do a lot on the soldiering side, so going to airborne really fuels that -- the old 'soldier first' mentality. Cyber Soldiers need to be prepared to conduct conventional warfare and produce the technical skills in combat situations."
Madsen said being airborne qualified would enhance future opportunities.
"It's going to help in opportunities for me down the road in my career," said Madsen. "I'm in the role of cyber operations specialist, but I'm 35Q, which is military intelligence. There are slots in airborne units where I can go and do cyber operations while deployed with an airborne unit, being able to deploy and set up defensive posture across multiple cyber networks.
"It gives me more capability to be in those units to better use the skill sets that I've learned. It complements the mission by providing another dynamic for readiness. You
have to be physically fit and pay great attention to detail."
Madsen has an associate's degree in general studies and is working toward a bachelor's degree in networks and cybersecurity.
"Cybersecurity is something I have a passion for," said Madsen.
Butler said that the battalion expects that more Soldiers will seek airborne qualification.
"Since we've returned from airborne school, we've had several people ask us about it," said Butler.
"We have a lieutenant in the battalion, 2nd Lt. Brooke Robinson, who is starting a cyber warrior program which is basically a program that will train you for airborne, air assault or the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge."
He said plans are for Madsen to be the noncommissioned officer in charge of the program.
Brooke said the impact that Sgt. Madsen and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Butler can provide back to the Army is that the airborne school "develops leadership, self-confidence, and an aggressive spirit through mental and physical conditioning that they can bring back to the cyber force."
Cyber is maneuver force expected to find, fix and destroy the enemy; gaining their airborne qualification proves that these Soldiers have the drive to do just that, said Brooke.
"The qualities the Basic Airborne Course helped to develop for these Soldiers will pay back hundredfold for the CPB when these Soldiers lead their cyber peers."
The Soldiers' interest in airborne came about partly as a result of a brigade program developed by Command Sgt. Maj. Joe C. Birkhead IV, CPB sergeant major.
"I was doing a retention campaign that I called, "Fall in love with the Army," said Birkhead, also airborne qualified for 18 years. "We were trying to capture -- the kind of interests that the cyber force has."
Previously a battalion command sergeant major in Belgium, Birkhead wanted to provide opportunities for his Soldiers.
"A lot of guys want to do technical stuff; a lot of guys want to do tactical stuff. So if there are any kind of opportunities I can afford to give them … just letting them know there are a lot of opportunities in the Army," Birkhead said.
"Doing defensive cyber operations, we do a lot of cyber support to corps and below and that's what we can tie the airborne operations into."
The Army has shown growing support in increasing the cyber capability across all formations, Birkhead said.
"With the recent approval of both the 915 Cyber Support Warfare Battalion and the Multiple Domain Task Force, we will soon witness cyber operations on the battlefield," he said. "As the capability grows, our cyber Soldiers will be prepared to conduct cyber operations at the corps and below levels to include airborne units.
"The commander understands cyber is not only good for intelligence, but provides him with a sensor-to-shooter link that he is able to then leverage against High-Payoff Targets, or HPTs," said Sgt. Maj. Jesse Potter, the S3 operations sergeant major for the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade (Cyber), during an exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif. in February 2018.
"Being 17C, Cyber Operations Soldier, doesn't mean you don't have the same opportunities as other MOS's," Birkhead said.
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