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

Twitter
RT @AETCommand: For the first time at @LukeAFB, AMS Airmen painted a #F16 one solid medium-gray color—a simple yet critical task that will…
Twitter
“When asked whether we still require all three of these legs of the triad, I answer, ‘we do’...we must acknowledge… https://t.co/atezdKA5tT
Twitter
RT @USAFReserve: Battling #COVID; a cyber Airman’s story - https://t.co/HsJv6J7r2A #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient #ReadyAF https://t.co/y7…
Twitter
RT @USAFReserve: #ReserveCitizenAirman makes life-saving decision - https://t.co/ZPviQZRrEX (Story by the @307BombWing) #ReserveReady #Rese
Twitter
The Impact of Sharing Stories of Recovery and Resiliency Lt Col Katharine McGregor did not know much about the… https://t.co/17VibuxnTc
Twitter
Many search for years to find their true passion in life. For Staff Sgt. Camrin Northrop, a firefighter for both th… https://t.co/QcNrBXPCV0
Twitter
From their homes to yours, check out the @AirNatlGuard Band of the South! #ReadyAF #AimHigh https://t.co/yb7GhZZ5A3
Twitter
Reintegration will be a deliberate & phased approach to protect Airmen & Space Professionals. Learn to maintain rea… https://t.co/egQSAV5uRB
Twitter
The MQ-1B Predator is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft used for i… https://t.co/livZYQyXnH
Twitter
Dr. Quinton Sasnett, a faculty member at Air University, talks about the university's civilian associates degree pr… https://t.co/0BgoCiGCUy
Twitter
Improving mental health through expressive writing. @KadenaAirBase https://t.co/zVoYTQQl5z
Twitter
Medical pros at Kadena Air Base, 3-D printed naso-pharyngeal swabs to test potential #COVID19 patients. The dental… https://t.co/h8q1HgLjRZ
Twitter
The MC-12W is a medium-to low-altitude, twin-engine turboprop aircraft. Its primary mission is providing intelligen… https://t.co/st7WRJLDHB
Twitter
Know what resources, treatments & therapies are available for invisible wounds. https://t.co/H2A7fYb8s3
Twitter
“The Total Force team at Eielson plays a pivotal role that extends throughout Alaska and projects into the Arctic.”… https://t.co/7nSYEtYWHj
Twitter
RT @AETCommand: 🙌🎉 Congrats to the @usairforce's newest pilots as Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 20-18 graduates today at @…
Twitter
.@JointBasePHH Airmen participate in a ramp drop from a C-17 Globemaster III. The 25th Air Support Ops Squadron is… https://t.co/AZVT6Qzmgv
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: It is a pleasure to be in #Alaska to see #Airmen and #SpaceProfessionals in action! Whether it’s F-35s & F-22s protectin…
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,252,672
Follow Us