Montana National Guard members participate in major cyber exercise

By Spc. Michael Hunnisett | Army Public Affairs

Special to The Electric

Members of the Montana National Guard, including 14 soldiers and two airmen, have been participating in Cyber Shield 18 at Camp Atterbury, Ind. this month.

The exercise includes members of the National Guard from 30 states, the U.S. Army Reserve, state and federal government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private industry.

The intent is to provide a collective training event for Defensive Cyber Operations element, Cyber security detachments or cells, and Cyber Protection teams to set the conditions for evaluation against Army and Joint standards; including network defense, forensic analysis, reporting and mitigation, and incident response through interagency partnerships and collaboration.

“The overarching concept is that we combine a team through the Army National Guard, along with the Air National Guard, to form a cyber defense group that can provide incident response to protect networks from private to federal entities,” said 1st Lt. Bradford Lewis, network operations officer, 120th Airlift Wing, Montana National Guard. “There is a lot of misconception that cyber doesn’t affect anyone until it attacks them personally, but cyber is in every entity. It’s the newest domain, but it’s one of the most effective because it’s highly proliferated and tools are cheap.”

By working closely with its interagency partners and the private sector, the National Guard seeks to strengthen cyber security and capabilities to support local responses to cyber incidents.

“The value that this brings to Montana is that we’ve got our mission partners here,” said Col. Corey Halvorson, director of information management, Montana National Guard. “It’s building those relationships that would make us a success in the event that we have one of those worst days where we’re cyber attacked.”

The participants from the Montana National Guard include members of Joint Force Headquarters, in Helena, and the 120th Airlift Wing in Great Falls.

“It’s a great benefit to our readiness and for the people of Montana to know that we have trained cyber operators who are prepared to respond to a cyber incident,” said Maj. Mike Talia, deputy staff judge advocate, Montana National Guard. “They know how to deal with mission partners who are non-military and they can come in to augment the forces of a mission partner to help them in the case of a cyber incident and be able to provide a response.”

The exercise centers around two phases: the first week offers participants the opportunity to learn from leaders in military, government and the private sector in academic instruction focusing on vital cyber skills.

The second week challenges the National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, as they face off against trained adversaries. The teams utilize their unique talents to defend networks and mitigate the effects of attacks against vulnerable infrastructure.

“This exercise provides a very technical defensive cyber ecosystem with a Defensive Cyber Operations Element training focus,” said Ohio National Guard Lt. Col. Teri Williams, the exercise commander. “Cyber Shield truly is a crucible where industry cyber talent merges with our military forces and the result is a more polished, tuned, and stronger response capability.”

The National Guard is uniquely suited for cyber operations if an incident occurs. Because of their status as a state military force when not under federal mobilization orders, Guard units are positioned to respond quickly in situations where federal response may not have appropriate authority.

Many of these participants, being part-time citizen-soldiers and airmen, work in the cyber field in the private sector, which provides an overwhelming amount of experience to this exercise.

“Individual technicians must take their technical skills to collective and collaborative levels in order to be successful,” said Williams. “We are committed to providing our participants with challenging and realistic training in order to protect our homeland.”

The cyber experience gained throughout the careers of these Soldiers and Airmen will be put to the test over the course of this demanding and complex exercise.

“We have a lot of very talented individuals in the National Guard, it’s great to see them working together,” said Talia.

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