North Little Rock, Ark. – Two range warriors from the National Guard Marksmanship Training Center (NGMTC) are transitioning to the cyber warfare technology field and have already put their range and competition skills to work developing a national-level cyber warfare technology recruiting and retention program which started with a local beta test March 13, 2020.
Sgt. Chris Marra and Staff Sgt. Robin Nunn, both former full-time NGMTC members, utilized their knowledge and skills gained during their time working for the NGMTC to plan, develop and execute an Interactive War Games cyber technology recruiting drive.
The cyber technology recruiting drive was held at the Information Technology Training Center (ITTC), National Guard Professional Education Center located at Robinson Maneuver Training Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas.
"We hosted an Interactive War Games cyber recruiting event designed to captivate and encourage service through cyber warfare technology utilizing video games as a pastime and had 20 students in total present," said Marra."
Marra took his knowledge from working in the automated data processing section, managing regional and national level competitions, and thought to apply it to cyber. He saw how lethal and knowledgeable service members were who participated in the higher-level marksmanship competitions and teams that NGMTC offers. He thought it best to apply it to cyber to recruit and retain talent.
Nunn, a former NGMTC small arms instructor and infantryman, has operational-level training needed to tie in the boots-on-ground knowledge to the training aspect of this program.
Both Marra and Nunn have a personal interest in cyber and are actively in transition to the cyber field and now work for the Information Technology Training Center (ITTC), National Guard Professional Education Center located at Robinson Maneuver Training Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas.
For this event, they partnered with Staff Sgt. Josh Hines, the former NGMTC supply sergeant who is now a successful recruiter with the Arkansas National Guard Recruiting and Retention (R&R) Battalion, to host the beta test at the ITTC on a weekend when Hines had his recruit sustainment program (RSP) recruits drilling.
The RSP recruits were encouraged to bring a friend to the recruiting day and seven out of the 13 RSP recruits were able to bring a friend along that day according to Marra.
"They arrived expecting to just play video games against each other as a pastime, but unbeknownst to them, during the main portion of the war games, they were unknowingly exposed to cyber-attacks to their systems," said Marra. "…Instructors, in another room, hacked their systems either simultaneously or individually to slow down or even hesitate their movements and ability to operate."
Personal exposure to cyber threats was the key to this cyber recruiting drive.
"The goal of using the games is to have some level of “gamification” to an education," said Nunn. This will draw out interest and expose the recruits to cyber technology. "…To try to pique an interest in a field that is in very high demand. Someone's not going to step in and try to work in IT or a cyber field if they haven't been exposed to what that is. So that's the main purpose of getting them in there."
Exposing more people to cyber technology, piquing their interest, and hopefully recruiting them to work in the cyber-tech industry is what our country needs.
"Nationwide the cyber field is struggling for people. It's not just a Guard thing or an Army thing. It's the country. The country is struggling," said Marra. "…The country, as a whole, is falling behind on the world stage. We are falling behind in the cyber field and we need to encourage more people to get interested and to get involved whether it's on the civilian side or military side."
Marra and Nunn weren't exaggerating about the seriousness of needing to fixing our cyber recruiting numbers.
Cybersecurity Ventures is the world’s leading researcher and publisher covering the global cyber economy and trusted source for facts, figures and statistics. They have reviewed and synthesized dozens of employment figures globally.
Over the eight-year period tracked, the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs is expected to grow by 350%, from 1 million positions in 2013 to 3.5 million in 2021, which was published through their online Cybercrime Magazine 2020 Cybersecurity Jobs Report. And of the candidates who are applying for these positions, fewer than one in four are even qualified, according to the MIT Technology Review.
If these recruiting drives draw interest, most will not have any formal education or training in this field, according to Marra and Nunn, but this is where the National Guard can help the cyber community at large.
"If their interest gets piqued and they want to do this, but they don't have means to get civilian education. That's kind of a selling point for the guard," said Nunn. "Be in the guard and utilize the programs that the guard has to help them get that education and high-paying IT job in the civilian sector, and, not only that, we'll have them being educated for military uses, as well."
It appears that Sgt. Marra and Staff Sgt. Nunn took the same approach as the majority of cybersecurity managers by targeting gamers for their Interactive War Games cyber recruiting program.
According to McAfee's Winning the Game report, 92% of cybersecurity managers say gamers possess skills that make them suited to a career in cybersecurity and 75% would consider hiring a gamer even if that person had no cybersecurity training or experience.
The beta program was an exercise focused on three facets: 1) team building in an operational environment focused on leadership, communication, and command and control, 2) exposure to the cyber threats through systems and understanding how this impacts their ability to operate, and 3) physical insider threat exposure when someone walked in, not wearing a uniform, got a computer, and started taking over, said Marra and Nunn.
The program’s goal to intrigue gamers was a direct hit, especially with RSP recruit Pvt. Jefferey Abbott.
"He [Sgt. Marra] did a very good job of setting it up, so it's more about the team pulling together…" Abbott said. "…It's really communication-based…" "…I definitely like team games and stuff. So it's very interesting."
Abbott, who joined the Guard for the education benefits, was considering getting his degree in software engineering but wasn't completely set on it and this event drew his interest toward cybersecurity, the other target goal of the program.
"I was thinking of something technologically. I was actually going to and ask Marra about 25B..." Abbott said. "It just sounded interesting and I want to learn because I wanted to for college. I was thinking of going along the lines of software engineering, but I don't think that it's close because I think cybersecurity would be like dealing with networks and stuff. That sounded interesting and I was actually going to talk to him after the event about it."
This event was Marra and Nunn's brainchild according to Lt. Col. Kimberlee Christian, the ITTC director, and the Commander of PEC Col. Leland Blanchard who excitedly said the crew is where the idea came from.
"The crew, and I think that's really what I appreciate about it," Blanchard said. "It was bottom-up driven."
"So, the goal here at PEC is we've got the best people, so how do we maximize their skills and thoughts," he said. "I think part of that is when they come to you with a good idea make sure it happens. People will be more invested in the organization and the success of the organization when they realize that they have a voice and so they brought this to me. I'm all about trying something different. So put your foot on the pedal and drive as hard and as fast as you can to make it happen."
He is so excited about the drive and passion that Marra and Nunn have shown in their short time at PEC, and as a leader is thrilled by their motivation.
"Hey, if you need something come see me, but otherwise you've articulated the vision; you've shared this thing. I love it. I love where you're going," said Blanchard.
Marra and Nunn were so motivated and have developed such a keen idea that others jumped in from outside the IT and cyber realms to get involved according to Blanchard.
"So again, when one group sees what's in the realm of the possible and they believe. It generates excitement," said Blanchard. "Does it generate more work? Absolutely, but it's work that people want to do all of a sudden instead of the mundane task."
Most people want to be part of something bigger and better, but many times aren't given the right environment, but Col. Blanchard thinks that leaders need to foster the right environment to encourage growth that brings them back to this belief.
"These folks came in, on their own time, on a Saturday," he said. The question is, how do we take what comes out of this, and that energy and drive, and how do we reward it, recognize it, and make sure they're given the freedom to come up with the next great idea. If we put the right people in the right places with the right skill sets and give them the guidance and the nutrients that they need — they'll grow."
Growth is exactly what Marra and Nunn have planned for this program, and with the full backing of Col. Blanchard, there is no doubt that we will be seeing more soon across the nation from the ITTC on the cyber recruiting program.
"Making it mobile is key," Marra said. "If we can make it mobile and take it across the country. I think States would benefit greatly from the training it provides."
In case you didn't know, PEC isn't just for the full-time workforce anymore. PEC trains everybody. While the Guard remains the focus, they also train Reserves, the Active Component, and even other branches of the military. ITTC has many courses that are beyond the scope of the full-timers' job. To find out more about their courses visit https://events.pec.ng.mil/Attendee/CourseCatalog/. If you are from another branch and are interested in attending a course contact PEC Operations at 501-212-6777 for more information.