NEWS | Sept. 29, 2021

Cyber Shield is a Kentucky kind of thing

By Lt. Col. Carla Raisler, Kentucky National Guard Garrison Training Command

Almost 50 members of the Kentucky National Guard participated in Cyber Shield, a nationwide cyber security exercise, July 10-24. 

Soldiers and civilian partners participated both onsite at Camp Williams and virtually at Joint Forces Headquarters in Frankfort, Ky.

This year, cyber professionals from the Kentucky National Guard, the Commonwealth Office of Technology, Louisville Metro Government, and law enforcement partners all joined the cyber fight.  

Maj. James Meece, team chief of the Defensive Cyber Operations Element (DCO-E), who is also the Chief Information Security Officer for the Louisville Metro Government, knows the importance of building partnerships between civilian and Guard forces.

“Participation in the Cyber Shield exercise helps Kentucky National Guard Cyber Soldiers by preparing them to provide timely and well-trained cyber support to Government agencies, civilian companies, and the Kentucky National Guard,” said Meece.  “The exercise provides real world training that is high intensity, fast paced, and is built on real cyber threats.  Participants are prepared to respond when needed and can Coordinate, Train, Advise, and Assist those in need of help in the cyber world.”

Cyber Shield has grown into the U.S. Department of Defenses’ largest unclassified cyber defense exercise. This year there were over 800 participants from all branches of the military and was spread across 42 states. This requires a robust staff that spends a year planning and preparing for the event. Kentucky Guardsmen are also an extensive portion of the staff.  

Kentucky Guardsmen supported the exercise in several ways, including operations, training, help desk, assessments, public affairs, religious services, and opposition forces (OPFOR). 

Soldiers from the 149th Signal Company manned the Cyber Shield Help Desk. 1st Lt. Leah Haper, platoon leader, 149th SIG CO, volunteered as the lead for the Help Desk. Her and her team were responsible for answer technical questions from the 27 teams participating in the exercise. While this was different from the tactical signal operations, she and her team recognized the training value. 

“Cyber Shield has been a great opportunity for the 149th Signal Company Soldiers to train and support other units,” said Harper. “This year we have many new Soldiers, and this exercise has allowed them to gain an initial training on their job and bring back that knowledge to their unit.”

Kentucky was also responsible for the first week of training. One of the members of that team was Staff Sgt. Ashely Kwick, human resources NCO, JFHQs. She and her team were responsible for bringing 25 cyber security courses with many offering certifications.  The position was challenging, but she used it as an opportunity to grow as a noncommissioned officer. 

 “Cyber Shield provided me the opportunity to challenge myself as a senior NCO to be more innovative and to look at processes from a different perspective,” said Kwick. “I was able to influence these processes within training to make a difference in future cyber shields which ultimately impacts our DCO-E and Cyber Protection Team (CPT).”

One important aspect of Cyber Shield is the Operations Force (OPFOR). This year, 1st Sgt. Joshua Atanovich, first sergeant 138th Signal Co, was the noncommissioned officer in charge and responsible for leading the adversarial force that acts as the “attackers” who have infiltrated the network the DCO-E is working on protecting. 

“It provides the opportunity to better understand the current tactics, techniques, and procedures of the threat actors along with their capabilities,” said Atanovich. “In simpler terms, if you learn to think like a thief, you can catch a thief. Overall, it strengthens our state’s security policies, practices, and posture.”

Even the Kentucky chaplaincy gets involved with Cyber Shield. Chaplains have been coming to Cyber Shield for the past three years, even when fully virtual, to support the resiliency of our cyber warriors. Participants are placed under immense mental stress for the duration of the exercise, and this is common for many who work in cyber security fulltime.  Having a chaplain present gives them an opportunity to work on their spiritual and mental well-being. 

“Cyber Warriors are some of the most dedicated and motivated Soldiers I have served with,” sad Draper. “The environment is demanding and stressful.” Since Cyber Shield added the chaplain to the staff, the joke has been that he is “hacking hearts and minds,” but it is true and as he reminds us, “having a healthy and resilient team is critical to mission success and most important to family success.” 

The success of any military exercise or mission takes the teamwork of not just those firing the shots but also those supporting the shooters. When it comes to Cyber Shield, the Kentucky National Guard is all in and epitomize the motto of “Fight Like Kentuckians.” 

Photos: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6746387/kentucky-national-guard-participates-nations-larges-cyber-exercise