Army Cyber Command salutes local student teams for winning cybersecurity skills
Students from Greenbrier High School in Evans, Ga., and Veritas Christian Academy in Augusta, Ga. who make up the schools' Cyber Patriot cybersecurity and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career program visited U.S. Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER) headquarters at Fort Gordon, Ga., May 10, 2021. ARCYBER recognized the teams for earning two of the top three places in Georgia in this year’s Cyber Patriot National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. (U.S. Army photo) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT GORDON, Georgia – U.S. Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER) recently welcomed and honored students from two local high schools for their winning cyber skills.

ARCYBER Commanding General Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Fogarty presented the students from Greenbrier High School in Evans, Ga., and Veritas Christian Academy in Augusta, Ga., with Certificates of Recognition in honor of earning two of the top three places in Georgia in this year’s Cyber Patriot National Youth Cyber Defense Competition.

Brig. Gen. Paul T. Stanton, ARCYBER’s Deputy Commanding General (Operations) welcomed the students for their exclusive tour of Fortitude Hall, ARCYBER’s recently completed headquarters here, and a look at ARCYBER operations and programs with Col. Ernesto A. Cortez, ARCYBER Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff Raymond Jones.

The visit gave the students an understanding of ARCYBER’s capabilities while providing the command with an opportunity to encourage them to continue their STEM studies and to perhaps consider pursuing careers with ARCYBER in the future.

“The tour was thoroughly informative,” said Christopher Miller, a student at Veritas. “I loved being able to talk to the younger lieutenants. It gave me excellent insight into my possible future at ARCYBER and how to pursue it.”

Miller has been involved with Cyber Patriot for two years. He attended summer camps at the Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta, where he first learned how to manipulate a computer to solve cyber challenges. “I saw how fun it was, and I find that the program provides an equal amount of ease and struggle,” said Miller. “It’s generally easy but will occasionally put your mind to work.”

Another Veritas student, Samantha Sniffen, has also been with the program two years. She said she initially had no idea what to expect, but was curious and excited, and couldn’t believe how much fun and how much she had learned by the end of her first week. “After that first season, when I realized that I really enjoyed cybersecurity and Cyber Patriot, I wanted to learn more,” said Sniffen. “That was really what made me realize that this is what I want to pursue.”

The Cyber Patriot Education program also gives students an understanding of and appreciation of networking. Though it may not be every student’s favorite subject, it has proven its value.

“I don’t find networking to be quite as enjoyable, and I know many young folks tend to not  be too interested,” said Miller. “Although I will say this: It’s thoroughly intriguing to study how networks travel from one source to another. I’ve been able to use my skills to fix problems at work and at church on several occasions.”

Sniffen was of the opposite opinion. “A lot of stuff about networking is interesting to me,” she said. “I think it is so cool how things connect to other things in very specific ways to make the whole network work. Networking is a field that I don’t understand very well, unfortunately, but it is one that I want to learn more about.”

Just as important as keyboard skills are the teamwork skills the students gain in education and competition.

Sniffen said she enjoys working on teams, and the members of her Cyber Patriot team are good at different parts of the competition. “It makes it easier to get things done quickly when helping each other.  I think the best part is when you have collectively been working on a specific problem for an hour and someone finally gets it. It’s such a good feeling and it’s very satisfying.”

Miller described each team member as a piece of a puzzle that must work together to complete a project. “We always start with an assigning role … but we never stay there the entire time. By the end of each competition, everyone has worked on every image. It is beautiful to see how everyone functions as one machine, working toward a common goal.”

While they’re enjoying the Cyber Patriot program, Sniffen and Miller have their sights set on greater possibilities and are looking ahead to their futures.

Sniffen hasn’t decided what college she wants to attend – she’s considering the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Virginia Tech – but she does know she wants to major in computer science and minor in cybersecurity. And her dream job? “I have pretty much no idea. It might be fun to work for the NSA or the FBI, though. At the moment I’m just enjoying being a sophomore in high school and learning what I can.”

Miller has his sights set on a degree in computer science or information technology with a cybersecurity minor, followed by extensive cyber career. “I would ideally start as an Information Analyst, then work    my way toward becoming a Chief Information Security Officer,” he said.

Veritas Christian Academy launched its Cyber Patriot team in the 2019/2020 academic year, and finished in the competition’s Platinum Tier – the top 30 percent of teams in the nation – the same year. For 2020/2021 the school finished in third place among Georgia teams in the Platinum (top) Tier. The team has also participated in several “capture the flag” cyber competitions. In this year’s Cyber Patriot competition they came in 3rd place for the state of Georgia.

Greenbrier High School started Cyber Patriot competitions in 2015-2016. Its team has placed in the top three Georgia teams the past two years, and finished in second place this year among Georgia teams in the Platinum (top) Tier. The school has fielded nine Cyber Patriot teams with 54 competitors in the past two years, and has won the last two “capture the flag” cyber competitions sponsored by DoD, the Armed Forces Communications-Electronics Association and the Parsons Corporation, and placed two finalists in this year's CyberStart America (a free national cybersecurity education program) competition.

The Cyber Patriot program was created by the U.S. Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire K-12 students to consider careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. ​The national competition, which bills itself as the nation’s largest cyber defense competition that puts high school and middle school students in charge of securing virtual networks, is at the core of the program. The event challenges students from across the U.S., Canada and other schools abroad to find and fix vulnerabilities in simulated environments. The top teams in preliminary rounds earn a place at the Virtual National Finals to complete for national recognition and scholarships.

Other efforts include AFA Cyber Camps, an elementary school cyber education initiative; a children’s literature series; and Cyber Generations, which is focused on keeping senior citizens safe online.

For more on the Cyber Patriot program, go to https://www.uscyberpatriot.org/

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