OKLAHOMA CITY – As global challenges evolve, strategists are turning their attention to cyberspace and developing the tactics, techniques and procedures to safeguard the future.
That focus on cybersecurity served as the backdrop of the latest Oklahoma National Guard-Azerbaijan military knowledge exchange. In late September, the Oklahoma National Guard hosted three cybersecurity officers from the Azerbaijan army.
The exchange paired Azeri officers with members of the Oklahoma National Guard’s Defense Cyber Operations Element, a joint Oklahoma Air and Army National Guard team dedicated to cybersecurity. It focused on how to conduct an information systems audit.
The Oklahoma Guard and Azerbaijan have been partners under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program since 2002.
Oklahoma Army National Guard Maj. Danny Slusarchuk, team leader of the DCOE, said knowledge exchanges help cyber experts collaborate on ideas and understand each nation’s issues and the greater context those issues exist within.
Oklahoma Air National Guard Capt. Stephen Fuller, a member of the 137th Special Operations Communication Flight based at Will Roger Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, agreed.
“Knowledge exchanges allow us to see the full picture of what our partner nations are dealing with in terms of infrastructure, support, their challenges, successes, and vice versa,” Fuller said. “We focused on familiarizing each other with each other’s network and cyber structures, how our cyber personnel interact internally and externally on the unclassified level.”
Maj. Elshan Gasanov, a member of the Azerbaijan army’s cybersecurity team, said knowledge exchanges between partners are important because — unlike traditional threats — cyber threats are not bound by borders.
“All of the information in our day must be secret,” Gasanov said. “Much more for the military. The main forces like army, navy and air must have a cyber force because all operations are operated through information technologies. As we know, if we have information technologies sites, we should defend those sites through cybersecurity.”
The exchange included a visit to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services data center to highlight how the Oklahoma National Guard works with military organizations and state government to protect data.
Gasanov noted the importance of interagency cooperation.
“It doesn’t matter if you are military or you are a civilian,” Gasanov said. “You have to work together because the army is part of the civilian world; they should work together. When we take this uniform off, we are civilians. In our civilian lives, we have families to protect, and that’s why it’s important to defeat all cyber attacks.”
Gasanov said he was impressed with the Oklahoma National Guard.
“I learned, not as a military man, as a human, you’re very kind and have a warm attitude here,” he said. “It’s given me a good view. You have a good cyber team here and we can learn a lot from each other.”
Lt. Col. Sharon McCarty, who leads the Oklahoma National Guard’s State Partnership Program, said exchanges like this show National Guard members the challenges and benefits of interoperability.
“They show how all over the world, Soldiers and Airmen face similar issues, but solutions are developed from a variety of vantage points,” McCarty said. “Developing a bigger picture makes us all better.”
The State Partnership Program supports the security cooperation objectives of the United States and the geographic combatant commands. State National Guards develop enduring relationships with partner countries and build partner capacity, improve interoperability and enhance U.S. access and influence while increasing readiness.
“You can’t surge trust,” McCarty said, quoting Rear Adm. John Menoni. ”Relationships develop over time, and it’s too late if you wait until a crisis to develop trust and confidence with your allies and partners.”