Missouri National Guard earns kudos in cyber security exercise

Bill Phelan

FORT MEADE, Md. - The Missouri National Guard is being praised for its performance during a recent national defense cyberspace operations exercise at Fort Meade.

Dubbed "Cyber Guard," the exercise was conducted by the U.S. Cyber Command and involved the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and National Guardsmen from more than a dozen states. Cyber Guard's objective was to establish lasting relationships between the Department of Defense, the NSA and the National Guard, thereby increasing cyberspace capability and situational awareness to better support Homeland Security and the FBI in "defense of the nation".

"The 'cyber culture' is beginning to take shape and we should not underestimate the value of creating this type of culture at the tactical level," said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

During the exercise, its 300 participants were presented with a "realistic cyber threat scenario" to which they coordinated a defensive response and developed mitigation measures in support of homeland security.

Both during and after the exercise, the performance of the Missouri National Guard team was praised by the adjutant generals of several states as well as other general officers.

"I'm thrilled with the compliments," said Lt. Col. Tony A. Kirtley, of Wildwood, chief of the Missouri Computer Network Defense Team, which, for the purpose of the exercise, consisted of 13 Soldiers and Airmen. "I expected our team to do well but for the amount of visibility that this exercise got it was really good for Missouri and for cyber security in general."

Missouri team members represented not only the Network Defense Team, but also the St. Louis-based 70th Troop Command, 157th Air Operations Group, 239th Combat Communications Squadron, and the 35th Infantry Division, in Lexington, Mo.

"Our job was to respond to an attack on a U.S. entity that was under attack by a fictitious foreign entity," Kirtley explained. "The purpose was to test the National Guard response to cyber-related incidents with agencies outside the National Guard, such as Cyber Command."

To its credit, the Missouri National Guard has been training for cyber security missions for years.

"We have been working on developing our team and leadership in cyber security for three years and it's finally coming to fruition," Kirtley said. "It's just good timing that we were able to showcase our talent, leadership and training at an exercise such as Cyber Guard. It was the most rewarding experience in my 20 years of military service."

While the nation's cyber security is probably not on the minds of many Americans, Kirtley said a cyber attack on the country could be devastating.

"It's easy to overlook cyber attacks because there is no kinetic effect; nothing gets blown up," he said. "But it is not outside the realm of possibility that nuclear reactors could melt down because of such an attack. The American people should be very concerned because we rely so heavily on computers and computer networks for everything. If you look at the way our financial systems depend on cyber networks, anything that could disrupt that would be crippling to our economy."

In the wake of Cyber Guard, Kirtley believes the United States is better prepared for a cyber attack, whether it comes from a hostile nation, a terrorist group or a single individual.

"I have a much greater confidence that our national leadership takes this issue very seriously," he said. "It's comforting that we are working on these issues now instead of when an actual event takes place."

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