ANNAPOLIS, Md.-- The 110th Information Operations Battalion held its third annual Information Operations and Cyber Operations Symposium at the Annapolis Readiness Center, here, Nov. 17.
Three years in, the question of why information operations matters has faded into the background as this year's symposium focused on partnerships and innovations that have demonstrated how the Maryland National Guard and its 110th Information Operations Battalion are leading the way for IO and CO.
Lt. Col. Kristine Henry, the commander of the 110th IO Battalion, hoped attendees would gain "a better understanding of how the Maryland National Guard is employing forces to fight in this information environment, including in and through the cyber domain."
While this purpose was achieved, this year's symposium also succeeded in demonstrating how the 110th IO Battalion has forged partnerships across the local, state, federal and international levels in responding to the unique needs of today's threat environment.
According to Maryland's Assistant Adjutant General for the Army, Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, the 110th has built many effective relationships. These partnerships were on full display at this year's symposium.
The agenda included presentations on the 110th IO Battalion's continuing IO mission in the Horn of Africa; participation in exercise Pacific Sentry with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Army Pacific; participation in exercise Locked Shields, the international live-fire cyber defense exercise with U.S. European Command and our NATO allies; and the unit's work with Estonia as part of the Maryland National Guard's State Partnership Program.
The Maryland Defense Force, 169th Cyber Protection Team and the Maryland Guard's Joint Staff J2 also provided presentations during the symposium on topics such as integrating IO and cyber with intelligence and protecting critical infrastructure in the cyber domain.
According to Birckhead, Estonia is a nation highly capable and well-positioned in the cyber domain. The State Partnership Program allows sharing of tools and information that help grow cyber professionals.
"I think about that partnership--what we can learn and what our soldiers and airmen can learn from them. I think that's a great partnership," said Birckhead. "They have built some key tools and so have we … so we can get that synergy going."
Birckhead also spoke of the partnerships that the 110th IO Battalion has built within Maryland, with agencies located at Fort Meade, Md., and across the active duty force. She said that it is thanks to the 110th IO Battalion's innovation that they continue to find opportunities to build new relationships.
"We do the AFRICOM mission and we've done that, well for years," said Birckhead. "As the operation changes there, our role will change. But we will continue to build relationships across the continent."
Lt. Col. Brad Rhodes, commander of Cyber Protection Team 174 of the Colorado National Guard and currently forward deployed at Fort Meade for Task Force Echo, noted that opportunities for 110th IO Battalion soldiers gave him ideas for his own troops back in Colorado.
"If one of my soldiers is looking for an opportunity to do an IO mission, thanks to this event, I know exactly who I can link them up with," said Rhodes.
The increase in the number of opportunities to do IO and cyber may be related to the increasing consciousness of the threat.
"Information operations, information warfare, influence operations. Our adversaries are attacking us in and through the information domain on a daily basis and they don't care what it is called," said Henry. But, she added, the 110th is in a unique position to help the Department of Defense and the Army address the threat in this domain.
During her welcome remarks, Henry commented on the evolution of IO and the fact that practitioners do not always agree how to define it. She provided a way to think about IO by describing four distinct buckets: people, personas, technology and narratives or messaging.
"In the late 90s, when I first started to work in IO, when we said 'attack the network' we meant disrupting actual adversary networks of people and organizations." These days, she said, attacking the network could mean targeting enemy Twitter handles, Reddit personas or Facebook profiles.
In contrast, signal professionals may think of IO in terms of disrupting actual routers, phones or frequencies. The reality is, according to Henry, all of these things are part of IO. "It's our job to synchronize and deconflict these different capabilities, not only with each other but with our kinetic capabilities as well."
Getting on the same page about IO is not the only challenge we face. Rhodes also mentioned the challenges of educating "our more kinetically-focused colleagues."
"When I grew up in the Army, we had three kinds of people: combat arms, combat support and combat service support. Now we have information dominance or information warfare … we've created hard power versus soft power," said Rhodes. "But if we use the domain of information to create an outcome without shots being fired, that's winning."
At least for soldiers of the 110th IO Battalion, there are resources in negotiating challenges like defining IO, developing our skills, preparing for deployments and ultimately, fostering our relationships. And one of those resources is the 1st Information Operations Command.
Matthew Hamby, who attended the symposium, is a senior IO planner and East Africa specialist from the 1st IO Command. He felt briefers' comments help IO practitioners be successful in the field.
"I think you really hit on some very valid points. Particularly, the importance of the Integrated Country Strategy, trying to get across the interagency spectrum and the need to develop IO efforts that encompass the entire field," said Hamby.
Hamby said that for him, the 110th IO team that supports the mission to the Horn of Africa is priority number one. He hopes the 1st IO Command can continue supporting the team and help them evolve their training plan to counter emerging threats.
Ultimately, attention is turning to the warfighter in the information environment and the 110th IO Battalion seems to be at its leading edge. "For 18 years we've been doing a counterinsurgency mission, we've been looking at cyber and IO on the side … but now it is to the forefront. How do we achieve readiness? How do you become a force multiplier? By continuing to do what you do," said Birckhead.
That's why, whether disrupting actual enemy networks or targeting adversary social media personas, soldiers of the 110th Information Operations Battalion will continue their mission to Attack the Network!
The 110th IO Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Kristine Henry and Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Yeglic, is based at the Annapolis Readiness Center in Annapolis, Maryland. The unit conducts tactical through strategic level Information Operations in support of global military operations by training and deploying culturally aware and regionally focused IO teams to defeat adversary information operations and gain information superiority in the information environment. The unit also provides support to state and local authorities during governor-declared state emergencies. For its federal mission, the unit is organized under the 56th Theater Information Operations Group of the Washington National Guard. For state missions, the 110th falls under the 58th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, Maryland National Guard.
In 2020, the 110th will continue its worldwide footprint. In addition to supporting its ongoing missions with U.S. Africa Command, the unit will also send teams to support U.S. Cyber Command and participate in exercises with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S Army Pacific. They will also continue to provide support to the Maryland National Guard's State Partnership Program with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Estonia.
For more information about the 110th IO Battalion, to learn how to become a part of the unit or for any interview requests, please contact Maj. Aaron Testa, Public Affairs Officer for the unit at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-304-2867.