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Innovative cyber program protects critical Tyndall AFB assets

A photo illustration of the Cyber Squadron Initiative program Oct. 28, 2016. The Cyber Squadron Initiative is a pathfinder for innovation within the Air Force cyber domain that combines Airmen from different Air Force Specialty Codes to enhance cyber surety on Air Force installations. The 325th Communication is one of 16 squadrons designated for the Cyber Squadron Initiative Air Force-wide, and the first selected for Air Combat Command. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

The Cyber Squadron Initiative is a pathfinder for innovation within the Air Force cyber domain that combines Airmen from different Air Force specialty codes to enhance cyber surety on Air Force installations. The 325th Communications Squadron is one of 16 squadrons designated for the Air Force-wide initiative, and the first selected for Air Combat Command. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Solomon Cook)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --

The 325th Communications Squadron became the first Air Combat Command squadron to join a new initiative to ensure Tyndall Air Force Base is able to train and project unrivaled combat airpower.

The Cyber Squadron Innovation is a pathfinder program among Air Force communication squadrons, enabling communications squadrons to provide secure communication assets and services with a focus on security assurance. 

“The big thing is understanding the mission, and we do that by a process called functional mission analysis,” said 1st Lt. Terel Hayes, the 325th CS special missions flight commander. “We look at the 325th Fighter Wing as a whole, and see how it actually projects that airpower. We break that down into smaller mission threads, and we then do analysis on those threads to see where cyber has an impact on them, positively or negatively.”

The ever-growing need for cyber surety from enemies, home and abroad, prompted the initiative. The pathfinder program brings Airmen of different Air Force specialties together to build the future structure of communications squadrons.

“Senior leaders were concerned with cyber surety, and they wanted us to move our cyber talent to assuring the mission,” Hayes said. “We also looked at how an air tasking order comes in and how leadership works together to disseminate the work that is required to fulfill the air tasking order.”

Prior to establishing the program in February 2016, leaders within the 325th CS met to make sure they had the right personnel for the job by adding diverse Airmen to the program, all the while ensuring manning in other areas would not be adversely affected.

Although all the Airmen were carefully selected, originating from different specialized jobs, program managers needed to lay the foundation for future standardized training programs to close the knowledge gaps.

“Since February, we have provided our Airmen various different types of training. This started with learning the basics of the network and building upon that,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lisa Spicer, 325th CS plans flight chief. “There were different levels of experience. Some already had that understanding, but others did not. It was the chance to get everyone on the same page. The baseline training took three months, giving everyone the same understanding.”

As the digital pathfinders continue to learn their new roles within the program, communications program managers continue to look forward. The role of these Airmen will become more unique depending on the mission as the initiative further spreads to other bases.

“The main intent is to deliver mission assurance for those capabilities that are pertinent to the base,” said Tech. Sgt. Antwane McDowell, the 325th CS cyber mission defensive team NCO in charge. “If you look at Tyndall (AFB), our primary objective is to provide air dominance and training with F-22 Raptors. We are giving mission assurance for those information systems that directly interact with the aircraft. We provide the internal defense of the systems.”

Air Force senior leaders are considering creating a new Air Force specialty code in communications squadrons or attaching a special experience identifier to Airmen in the program. The identifier would allow Airmen to integrate into a new team easily, McDowell added.

As the program advances, 16 communications squadrons Air Force-wide will come together and finalize an official training program. The 325th CS recently completed a local training program that is currently in the review process.

“We have created a pseudo-master training plan, providing the ability to get someone with no computer knowledge spun up on what they would need to become familiar with the program,” Spicer said. “The training plan is not official, but it is a template for those here. We will share a career field functional manager, which is something that is being asked of all the bases that have a pathfinder program. The end goal is to see how Tyndall and other bases do it and come up with an official master training plan.”

With the need for maintaining cybersecurity, the professionals of the 325th CS will continue to monitor network traffic, searching for vulnerabilities that may interfere with operations.

McDowell spoke highly of on-base partners who have and will continue to assist with the program.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without our mission partners giving us the insight of the systems they work with day to day,” McDowell said. “From the training support squadrons to the maintenance squadrons, providing knowledge of maintenance operations, flight simulators and mission planning systems, they have been a great help. In the 325th CS, we see a problem and we fix it, but they are the ones who know what is important to them and how important it is to stay mission ready.”

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