The World of Cyber Warriors: Recruiters working to meet growing demand

Cyber warriors work hard to protect and defend America's cyberspace domain daily.

Cyber warriors work hard to protect and defend America's cyberspace domain daily.

The 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is an independent group under 10th Air Force that ensures the training and readiness of Air Force Reserve Command intelligence squadrons engaged in diverse and complex intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission sets.

The 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is an independent group under 10th Air Force that ensures the training and readiness of Air Force Reserve Command intelligence squadrons engaged in diverse and complex intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission sets.

Citizen Airman/Oct. 2017 -- (Editor’s note: The following story is in recognition of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, which is observed each October.)

Cyberspace operations is a career field that continues to grow and is vital to the United States’ national defense. As the field grows at breakneck speed, the job of finding qualified individuals to fill the needs of the Air Force Reserve falls on Air Force Reserve Command Recruiting Service.

The 960th Cyberspace Operations Group, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, is the only cyberspace operations organization within AFRC. It comprises 15 direct-reporting units with approximately 1,250 people who are spread out across 11 geographically separated locations. Twelve of the 15 are either classic associate or Reserve associate units, meaning they are partnered with active-duty organizations.

The missions of these units encompass total cyber operations: combat communications; command & control of defensive cyber operations and DCO-response actions; continental United State-wide communication infrastructure management; cyber defense analysis; DCO, DCO-RA network operations; and initial qualifications training for cyber ops.

As the need for cyber warriors grows, recruiting must meet requirements by bringing in quality individuals. So last year, a dedicated cyber recruiter position was created and embedded within the 960th CYOG. Tech Sgt. Dyamie Baker became AFRC Recruiting Service’s first cyber recruiter. Although Baker is dedicated to cyber, any recruiter can recruit cyber troops.

“It was absolutely an honor to be chosen,” Baker said. “As with any new program, there will be growing pains. Everything so far has been trial and error. But after a year in the position, I think I have found a sweet spot.

“The biggest hurdle for me is that since I am the only one, I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas around with. I have to kind of figure things out on my own. I think with the growing demand of cyber units and the need to fill positions, there will be more recruiting done in the cyber fields. I hope that my position will expand and maybe have a team of cyber recruiters. I think success comes in numbers.”

While her new job poses some big challenges, Baker said she relishes the opportunity and realizes how important it is for this growing mission.

“It has given me a greater understanding of what specialized recruiting is, and I thoroughly enjoy the cyber realm,” Baker said. “There is a growing demand for new talent in the cyber domain.”

Currently, the 960th is 80 percent manned, and the group will be adding new units in the future.

“It is much more difficult to find individuals who are qualified for cyber positions than many of the others, so it is beneficial to have a recruiter who understands the mission needs and requirements,” Baker said. “It also takes more time to get applicants hired into these units. Without a dedicated recruiter, these jobs tend to not get filled as frequently as they need to.”

For the 960th CYOG, having a dedicated recruiter with an understanding of the mission and the organization’s needs takes some burden off the already thin staff.

“Being embedded with the 960th CYOG headquarters has really given me an opportunity to gain an understanding of the group’s needs when it comes to manning,” Baker said. “It functions differently than many other units. I am able to communicate with the units very easily, and they come to me frequently with specific needs. This allows me to take some of the work off of the full-time staff’s plate. With this being a new positon, I would consider us to have a great relationship, and it will only get better with time.”

Since Baker has been on the job, leadership within the 960th CYOG has taken note of the increased production.

“I have been in command for a year,” said Col. Anthony Perkins, 960th CYOG commander. “And through partnerships with RS, our manning has increased 18 percent by 203 accessions. Three of four units added October 1, 2016, have met initial operational capability, and two are scheduled to reach full operational capability 12 to 18 months ahead of schedule."

With additional growth of the cyber mission expected in the next few years, the importance of the relationship will remain high.

“We have plenty of openings for industrious, self-starter type Airmen; however, the team already in place is working extremely hard to hire, retain and market toward the future,” Perkins said. “The 960th CYOG is projected to grow into a cyber wing in fiscal year 2018. Projections show the 960th CYOG adding a unit per year from FY19 to FY22. And in some years, two units will be added.”

With the current need for cyber warriors and more on the horizon, Baker and the rest of the command’s recruiters will be working hard to keep up with this growing mission. To meet the demands of a very broad and diverse career field, cyber warrior recruiters are casting a wide net looking for good fits in the various units.

“The units are looking for qualified individuals with motivation and drive to succeed. Experience is nice but not necessary,” Baker said. “There isn’t a black-and-white checklist on what they have to possess, because each unit’s needs are different. We have a good balance between prior service and non-prior service. The units have to ensure they have enough fully qualified individuals to train the new Airmen.”

Bringing in prior-service recruits — roughly 61 percent of accessions over the past five years — has many advantages for the Reserve. The cost savings on training is a huge benefit to the units.

“Finding individuals who already have experience is icing on the cake,” Baker said. “They bring another side of the job that others may not have experienced yet. The technical schools are extremely difficult, and when the members already have the civilian experience or certifications and experience, there is less chances of them being unsuccessful through technical school.”

For the 960th CYOG, finding individuals with cyber, electronics, engineering, intelligence, avionics, aircraft maintenance and space experience are all helpful. The group has a high percentage of intelligence Air Force specialty code officers and enlisted members within each organization.

“Overall, if members have ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) or AFOQT (Air Force Officer Qualifiying Test) scores that make them eligible for cyberspace service, we're willing to work them into our rotation ASAP,” Perkins said. “Prior service is also a good thing. Cyberspace is the newest battlespace/domain. Cyberspace supports all other domains: land, maritime, air, space and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), so those with prior military experience and experience from other services is a big plus for accession.”

Perkins said current members of the Reserve who are cyber professionals in their civilian jobs but are aligned against other AFSCs are in high demand as well, particularly those who possess various certifications.

Interviews for the majority of military positions are required. Most interviews can only be accomplished over unit training assembly weekends, when the units are staffed better to actually complete a thorough interview, the colonel said.

“My unit commanders, superintendents and I are looking for energetic people who are willing to learn, who are looking to contribute to the development of tactics, techniques and procedures in a fast-paced, quickly evolving battlespace,” Perkins said. “If they qualify, we have a need for those with that propensity.”

The colonel admits that requiring interviews does slow down the recruiting process and can cause some friction. He said unit commanders and superintendents are assessing risk by AFSC to help provide the Recruiting Service a list of slots that may be filled without conducting interviews.

“In most areas, the Recruiting Service and 960th CYOG units are working well together,” Perkins said. “My relationship with Col. Hal Linnean (RS commander) down to the embedded recruiter at my headquarters is good to great and improving daily with each new recruit.”

Currently the 960th CYOG is 80 percent manned across the board. Some cyber AFSCs for the active component are manned well below that number, the colonel said. With projections showing the 960th growing exponentially for the next five years, the demand for cyber warriors will remain high.

“The demand signal for technicians and managers is high; but the demand for cyber leaders is off the charts,” Perkins said. “What happens in active duty echoes in the reserve component in cyber. Our primary source of new talent is the active duty. If its manning is low, Reserve manning in key areas will be lower, depending on the pipeline.”

With the demand for cyber warriors being so high and competition with other branches of the service and the civilian sector, Baker has her work cut out for her.

“Because I don’t have a 'zone,' my entire job is actual recruiting,” she said. “I have to seek out qualified applicants who fit the need of my units. I spend a lot of time in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) schools, high schools, colleges and CyberPatriot programs. (Cyberpatriot is the national cyber education youth program created to help direct students toward careers in cybersecurity and STEM disciplines.) They are doing phenomenal things nationwide, and I truly enjoy working with them as much as possible.”

Perkins issued a challenge to anyone wanting to be part of the growing cyber warrior domain.

“Today, Americans from across the country can revolutionize a domain that exponentially grows somehow, someway on a daily basis and an environment where everyone from the newest recruit to the most senior leader coordinates to solve difficult problems,” he said. “If you like every day to be an exciting challenge, providing an opportunity to positively affect the defense of this nation across all five domains — land, maritime, air, space & ISR — come join us. See if you measure up and help us define, develop and defend cyberspace!”