First Maryland Guardsman completes Cyber Operations Officer Course
By Capt. Aaron M. Testa, Public Affairs Officer, 110th Information Operations Battalion
ANNAPOLIS, Md.—An Infantry Officer with the Maryland National Guard’s 110th Information Operations Battalion became the first Maryland Guardsman to complete the challenging Cyber Operations Officer Course at Fort Gordon, Georgia, July 25, 2017.
“The course provided me with extensive and in-depth technical, operational, and planning training for cyberspace operations,” said the recent graduate, Capt. Brendan McKeague, who is the Assistant Operations Officer for the battalion.
The six-month course McKeague completed featured cyberspace operations planning, joint advanced cyber warfare training, and a team-based capstone exercise. The U.S. Army Cyber School of Excellence has taught the course since September 2015, preparing graduates to conduct offensive and defensive Cyber Operations.
Through the course, McKeague was also certified as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Cisco Certified Network Associate, and he received training in Cyber Common Technical Core—all of which will be invaluable to him, his unit, and the Maryland Guard as he returns home to put his experience to work.
The National Guard is uniquely postured to integrate Cyber Operations into more traditional operations, and the 110th IO Battalion and State of Maryland are increasing their roles in the cyber domain both at home and abroad. This mission means Soldiers require new training, skills and competencies to meet the needs of Combatant Commanders for Title 10 operations and Governors for state missions.
The 110th, among other information related capabilities, synchronizes cyber capabilities in its Information Operations cell in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, U.S. Africa Command. In addition to overseas missions involving Cyber Operations, the 110th was part of a Maryland Cyber Joint Task Force in January in support of the President’s Inauguration activities.
McKeague believes this training is especially important as the Army Cyber Branch matures and the Maryland National Guard expands its cyber capability.
“The Cyber Operations Officer Course produces professional and proficient leaders who can contribute to the critical cyber mission and meet the growing demand for officers who can lead teams that conduct full-spectrum cyber operations,” said McKeague.
But the training is not just about equipping leaders with the skills they need to conduct Cyber Operations. Relationships formed during the course are also important to help the Army meet future cyber demands.
“Besides the comprehensive and rigorous training, the most valuable aspect has been the relationships I’ve built with cyber leaders who will be going out into the force in the Active Army, National Guard and Reserve,” said McKeague. “These relationships strengthen the concept of the Total Force, facilitate the sharing of ideas and best practices across components, and enhance the Army’s cyber capabilities.”
The Army does not afford the opportunity to attend the Cyber Operations Officer Course to just anyone. The requirements to apply to the Cyber Branch limit the pool of applicants to only a select few, highly qualified Soldiers—and McKeague was one of them. Not only did he meet all of the administrative requirements, he also possesses the requisite interest in and passion for the cyber domain as well as creativity, intellectual curiosity, problem solving skills, and academic excellence.
McKeague competed for the opportunity, earning his course slot as a result of his technical expertise, operational experience, performance record, and cyber potential. The Maryland National Guard leadership then allowed him to attend the school at Fort Gordon, facilitated by the National Guard Bureau. Now, his record and new training provided him the credentials to be accepted into the Cyber Branch.
McKeague does not take his responsibility that has resulted from this opportunity lightly. “It has been an honor and privilege to represent the Maryland National Guard and the 110th IO Battalion at the U.S. Army Cyber School,” he said.
The 110th IO Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Kristine Henry, is looking forward to having McKeague back with his newly acquired qualifications.
“In the 110th, as a part-time cyber warrior, Capt. McKeague will be able to immediately apply his training to real world operations during weekend drills,” said Henry. “But he’ll also be able to continue honing those cyber skills during his day-to-day civilian job as a cybersecurity consultant.”
According to Henry, within the next few months the Maryland National Guard will roll out a new force structure, a 39-person Cyber Protection Team, missioned for Defensive Cyber Operations.
“Unlike other Guard teams, this team is not slated to have part-time slots—it will be only full-time Active Guard Reserve (AGR),” she said. “However, the 110th will continue to train and deploy part-time cyber superstars, like Capt. McKeague, which will compliment this new AGR cyber team coming to Maryland.”