By Capt. Lisa Beum
Army Cyber InstituteTALLINN, ESTONIA-The U.S. Military Academy's Academic Individual Advanced Development program is a key portion of the institution's margin of excellence concept. Cadets spend anywhere from a few days to a few weeks during their summer academic break conducting academically enriching studies and cultural immersions.This year, six cadets who major in five different academic disciplines participated in a three-week, cyber-focused AIAD. This AIAD was sponsored by the Law Department and the Army Cyber Institute and its purpose was to build relationships and learn from international partners and allies.The group traveled to Estonia for the annual International Conference on Cyber Conflict, continued to Poland for Confidence Conference and finally to Germany for cyber-related activities, briefs and workshops at Stuttgart and the Marshall Center."Most AIADs take form of internships in government and the private sector," Class of 2020 Cadet Kevin Dupuis said. "I believe the best experiences lie in the opportunities to go abroad, learn about not only one's academic topics of interest, but also learn about different cultures, languages and ways of life."Dupuis is a law major and was the cadet-in-charge for this AIAD.
These unique experiences broaden cadets' perspectives and provide them with practical advanced education related to their field of study and real-world application of cyber in the military.Class of 2022 Cadet Chloe Tran, a Defense and Strategic Studies major, commented on how her thoughts changed from what her previous notions about a typical West Point summer looked like to how she sees them now."It is fairly safe to claim that every time I return home from West Point, I am always asked as to whether or not my summers are consumed with military training and marching about Camp Buckner," Tran said. "I realize that I have been granted not only an academic, but cultural experience that surpasses those offered to my civilian counterparts."While attending CyCon, Tran hoped to familiarize herself with more cyber policy, cyber defense strategies and NATO's role for the future of global security."I was shocked to discover that, despite being equipped with my amateur knowledge of Python from a first-year Information Technology class, I was able to develop a greater understanding of cyber defense strategies such as KSI Blockchain, the application of international law in cyberspace, and cybersecurity strategies and tools for the future," Tran said.According to Tran, the AIAD afforded her a rare opportunity to meet some of the greatest international leaders in cyber field."The questions they raise are fundamental to my conceptualization of the use and capabilities of Artificial Intelligence in the four domains of warfare-land, sea, air and now space-for strategic advantage," Tran said.Class of 2022 Cadet Finnian Valle, a Computer Science major and German language minor, was interested in attending this AIAD because it pertained to his field of study and would allow him to obtain experience in the international cyber community that he eventually hopes to enter."Among some of the people we conversed with were German graduate students, Naval Academy midshipmen, alumni, international cybersecurity personnel and Army general officers currently working in these fields," Valle said."This AIAD is my first experience with the AIAD process through West Point, but it certainly will not be my last as I have thoroughly enjoyed the entirety of my experience on this trip," Valle added.AIADs not only provide cadets with endless opportunities to learn academically, but they also allow cadets to develop culturally and personally."This trip gives me the opportunity to interact with other cadets and officers outside of my day-to-day life, hopefully creating a strong memory with previous strangers," said Valle as he explained how he hoped this AIAD would help him come out of his shell."Lastly, and more intrinsically, I relish the opportunity to travel internationally and the prospect of interacting with a variety of people," Valle said.During one of their cultural excursions inbetween cyber conferences, the cadets visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in Krakow, Poland, and it had a profound impact on Valle."We have always heard of the unspeakable acts of evil that had occurred in the Holocaust some 70 years ago, but it paled in comparison as you witnessed it for yourself. From the words of our tour guide 'Auschwitz remains a sobering example of what happens when we allow hatred and racism to become a normality'...I am glad we took that trip to Auschwitz because it is something I will never forget," Valle said.Dupuis expounded on the importance of AIADs and attributes who he is as a leader today to his experiences on AIADs."The opportunities that AIADs offer is incomparable to that of any other trip or training," Dupuis said. "They provide beneficial incite for cadets ... shaping more informed and competent leaders. These leaders are able to react to the challenges before them with an advanced decision-making process refined by the experiences bestowed upon them in the form of USMA's AIADs."He finished by saying, "AIADs allow cadets to experience adventure through foreign languages, science, literature and all fields of academia including the most important topic: life. All cadets ought to seize the opportunities AIADs offer not only for the betterment of their academic careers, but for the betterment of their lives."