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Air University students win big at national cyber policy competition

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- Two teams of Air Command and Staff College students took top honors at the Atlantic Council Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge in Washington, D.C., on March 11-12.

The annual event is an interactive learning experience and competition that puts students in a mock National Security Council environment to analyze how the U.S. should respond to a realistic, complex and evolving cyber-enabled malicious activity that poses an ambiguous threat to national security and economic vitality and could potentially destabilize the international environment, said Dr. Pano Yannakogeorgos, dean of Air University's Air Force Cyber College.

"Team Fightin' Electrons" beat out 39 other teams to win the overall competition. The team also won the Military Cyberspace Professional Association’s Order of the Thor medal for best military team. Team members were Majs. Marcus Laird, Benton Enomoto and Ryan Hilton, and Selina Carr-McEwen.

The "Cyber Jedi" team won the Most Creative Cyber Policy Solution Award. Team members were Majs. Zachary Smith, Jose Rivas and Sam Kidd, and Army Maj. Spencer Calder.

"Both teams performed tremendously, with awards and recognition for all. The students validated the Cyber College programs at Air University," said Yannakogeorgos, who, along with Col. Ronald Banks, Air War College vice commandant and Cyber College faculty member, coached the Air University teams.

The Air University students competed against civilian and military teams from across the country, to include teams from Brown University, Harvard University, U.S. Naval Academy, Columbia University, and National Defense University.

Rounding out the top four finishers were the teams from National Intelligence University, U.S. Naval Academy and American University.

"The event was awe inspiring," said Laird, team captain for the Fightin' Electrons. "The caliber of the event is self-evident when you look at the judges that had been assembled, including former Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. (Norton) Schwartz."

The senior-level judges represented various cybersecurity sectors in government, finance, the press and telecommunications.

"The cyber policy challenge was an incredible opportunity that allowed me to gain insight into the complexity of cyber issues from the technical experts on my team and other technical experts in attendance," Hilton said. "The tremendous experience will make all of us more well-rounded Airmen who are better able to serve the needs of the United States Air Force and the needs of our great nation."

One of the Electrons attributed the teams' performances to the diversity of student knowledge and backgrounds and the quality of instruction in the ACSC and Air War College combined electives course Cyber Horizons.

"Cyber Horizons produced real learning of both the challenges associated with military cyberspace security and for the nation at large," Enomoto said. "The outstanding faculty and guest speakers expanded our ideas and ways we thought about cyberspace, fostered higher-level implications and second- and third-order effects. The policies we presented at the competition were a direct result of the learning that occurred in Cyber Horizons."

The competition will have a lasting and memorable impact on team members.

"It was one of the most amazing experiences in my lifetime and one that I will take with me forever," Carr-McEwen said.

The Atlantic Council promotes constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs based on foreign policy think tank Atlantic Community's central role in meeting global challenges.

Laird added that the networks and connections developed between competitors are more important than school colors.

"Ultimately, every team there realized that in spite of the competition, we are all going to be on the same team afterward," he said.

The competition was held at American University's School of International Service. It will also take place in Geneva, Switzerland on April 7-8.