HomeNewsArticle Display

Cyber operators host cyber certification training courses for SA youth

Staff Sgt. Justin Gonzalez, 33rd Network Warfare Squadron  incident response operator, and GhostWire Academy course developer and co-founder, hosts a Network+ class in San Antonio, Oct. 21, 2018. The academy is a free cyber certification training and award organization which serves San Antonio teenagers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. R.J. Biermann)

Staff Sgt. Justin Gonzalez, 33rd Network Warfare Squadron incident response operator, and GhostWire Academy course developer and co-founder, hosts a Network+ class in San Antonio, Oct. 21, 2018. The academy is a free cyber certification training and award organization which serves San Antonio teenagers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. R.J. Biermann)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- In mid-2016, four Air Forces Cyber operators teamed to create a free cyber certification academy for San Antonio teenagers.

Master Sgt. Shaun Herron and Staff Sgts. Charles Hackett, Justin Gonzalez and Austin Ellsworth’s dream became reality when their non-profit, GhostWire Academy, was born. Today, their team of seven hosts dozens of 13- to 17-year-olds every weekend for eight- to 16-week-long preparatory courses.

“We wanted to teach teens how to become cyber-robust, -aware and -sharpened young adults for San Antonio,” said Herron, 624th Operations Center strategy and plans chief, and GWA president and co-founder. “That way the kids who come out of our academy have a fundamental understanding of computer systems and an in-depth understanding of computer networking and cybersecurity.”

With a combined 48 years’ experience and 18 cyber certifications, the founding team considers it a responsibility to lend their extensive cyber expertise to prepare tomorrow’s youth for the ever-evolving cyber landscape.

“Just look at our adversary’s capabilities and how cybercrime is evolving,” said Hackett, 33rd Network Warfare Squadron Standards and Evaluations noncommissioned officer in charge, and GWA vice president and co-founder. “If you look at the statistic for how cyber savvy our country’s youth are compared to other nation’s teens, we need to be more effective to be a super cyber power. Programs like ours are a way to reach and teach these kids.”

However, the road to reach their goal wasn’t an easy one.

In summer 2016 the team began preparing coursework, lesson plans, visuals and other content to host their first two courses, one on computer networks and the other on cybersecurity. A San Antonio library agreed to provide the needed classroom space. After advertising for the course, twenty teenagers quickly signed up and volunteer Airmen instructors were on-board to teach throughout the weeks. Everything seemed to line up, but then the team suffered their first defeat.

“Only two kids showed up,” Herron said. “It was one of the deepest, darkest moments for me because I thought I was going to quit. That’s when we realized we had to have a product for our program.”

The team agreed to expand their focus from simply preparing kids for certification testing to preparing and paying for their certification. They also searched for a new venue to host the classes.

“We reinvented ourselves,” Herron said. “We had a meeting and I said, ‘We have to do something.’ I said, ‘Let’s get these kids certified. Let’s figure it out,’ and that’s what we did. It’s one thing to talk about doing things and to have a well-thought-out plan, but when the rubber meets the road, you start realizing all the things you didn’t prepare for.”

Hoping to rebound, and after rebranding their academy, the team began preparations for their next cybersecurity course. With sign-ups underway, defeat reared its ugly head once again.

“We lost our venue,” said Herron. “And because kids had signed up, we had to send them cancelation notices. That really set us back. We were all demoralized from it.”

Through an interested benefactor, the team was introduced to Confluence Park, a venue for educators.

“We met up with Confluence Park, and they told us we would always have a home on their campus,” said Herron. “It was like when you’re dying from dehydration and someone gives you water. It was so reinvigorating. Here we were—lost, confused and frustrated—and now we have a place to teach, with air conditioning and dedicated computers for the kids to use.”

An organization also offered to pay for ten certifications.

With the venue set, students signed up, and certifications pre-paid, the team launched their first Information Technology Fundamentals certification preparatory course.

After a long, grueling journey, on Oct. 7 the team reached a major program milestone. Twelve of their students received their IT Fundamentals certification.

But the journey isn’t over for these graduates.

“These kids must keep rehearsing their skills to keep an active certification,” said Herron. “That’s why we implemented a pay-it-forward model to allow them an opportunity to instruct (within GWA) which will keep their certification active by being awarded continuing education credits after high school.”

Today the academy’s waitlist is 300 teens long. After the new year, they’ll begin hosting IT fundamentals, Network+ and Security+ prep courses.

“There is so much opportunity here,” said Gonzalez, 33rd NWS incident response operator, and GWA course developer and co-founder. “San Antonio, ‘Cyber City USA,’ is growing so fast, and there’s such a need for educated cyber operators. We’re happy to be involved in shaping and educating these young adults.”

Engage

Facebook Twitter
The opening of Cargo City successfully transitions operations from the #USAF & Coalition Abdullah Al-Mubarak Air Ba… https://t.co/K73PkhjpNY
RT @AirmanMagazine: It started as a dare between two pilots... The @usairforce Hurricane Hunters save lives by flying through hurricanes t…
RT @ActingSecAF: Thanks to this crew for making the right call and saving the life of a fellow service member. https://t.co/cP4KCIQFgD
The Space Test Program-2 will provide the #USAF with insight into the SpaceX booster recovery and refurbishing proc… https://t.co/qYhlj7Je9V
RT @ActingSecAF: Happy birthday @USArmy. 244 years of defending our nation. @SecArmy https://t.co/AfMoPxwbd8
RT @DeptofDefense: “They’re really noisy, but I love them.” This @USAirForce F-15 Eagle crew chief from the @142ndFW shares his motivation…
Today, America recognizes the birth of Old Glory with its own holiday. Flag Day was first celebrated in 1877 to mar… https://t.co/wqoEjdqQFy
#FollowFriday! @ActingSecAF Matthew Donovan is responsible for the affairs of the #USAF, including the organizing,… https://t.co/28IlKOKWMq
.@NellisAFB fixed wing aircrews are flight-testing new prototype helmets this summer, thanks in part to an accelera… https://t.co/4HSUGSk3Qg
The 2019 @warriorgames Opening Ceremony is set for 6/22 @AmalieArena w/@HunterHayes! Stay up to date with your… https://t.co/u34QuBnpdo
.@AETCommand's latest #podcast series dives into "Developing Mach-21 #Airmen," providing visibility on recruiting,… https://t.co/CGSHJonQAT
RT @ActingSecAF: Thanks to the support of Congress, the @usairforce is developing game changing technology. #fasterandsmarter https://t.co/…
#DYK, Flight equipment has historically been designed to fit males because there are statistically more male… https://t.co/iJnSp1pV74
.@AirForceReserve #Airmen rescues an 8yr old boy from flood waters, in Prague, Oklahoma. #USAFhttps://t.co/Y4efafIkO6
#DYK, Individuals w/ disabilities comprise a large part of the #USAF civilian force. As part of the American Disabi… https://t.co/LOP14Xhg4j
Two of #AirForce's newest aircraft complete receiver certification, moving one step closer to enhancing #warfigtherhttps://t.co/F6pvB6PEac
.@HQAirUniversity's Squadron Officer School students collaborate to explore ways #AI can solve #AirForce issues and… https://t.co/QBCFwaGUdh
Vandenberg #AirForce Base is set to support the @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch, carrying the RADARSAT Constellation… https://t.co/PohIOze3HC