By Eric M. White
/ Published October 02, 2018
YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio -- Master Sgt. Robert Beveridge stands at the forefront of cyber operations for the 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, but his contributions and impact to cyber defense are greater than the sum of his Reserve duties there.
In a small, nondescript building in the back corner of Youngstown Air Reserve Station, a team of approximately 12 information technology specialists is hard at work. Most of the team’s members work in IT fields for private companies, universities or government agencies, but today, they wear Air Force uniforms.
Their job is to develop, maintain and advance an invisible shield surrounding the 910th Airlift Wing’s aircraft and infrastructure. The shield must be dynamic and stalwart to maintain resiliency, evolving just as quickly as adversaries develop new weapons targeting the Air Force’s critical assets.
Beveridge is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 910th Communications Squadron’s cyber systems operations section.
He joined the Air Force soon after high school, enlisting to become a weather specialist, following in his father’s footsteps.
“I knew I wanted to give back, to serve, to do something,” said Beveridge.
Citizen Airmen serve within a particular career field, but the part-time nature of their Reserve commitment allows them to pursue opportunities outside of the Reserve. Some are Air Force Reserve lawyers and stay-at-home parents. Some are Air Force Reserve firefighters who own contracting businesses.
Others are Air Force Reserve dentists who operate private practices. Beveridge’s private ventures provide a powerful complement to his Reserve duty, allowing him to oversee the development of the training he conducts for the 910th CS.
Beveridge is the senior cyber security engineer team lead for the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. His complementary career paths took some careful orchestrating.
In 1991, while serving in the Air Force, he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in computer information systems, much at the insistence of his mother. His civilian career led to a position as a systems and network engineer.
In 2003, Beveridge wanted to align his Air Force and civilian careers, so he cross-trained into communications with the 171st Communications Squadron of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Career opportunities moved him to Youngstown in 2015. He quickly fell in love with the leadership, people and unit.
Later that year, while assigned to the 910th CS, Beveridge started hearing about the Cyber Squadron Initiative and metamorphosis of Air Force IT specialists from service deliverers into network defenders. His first question upon hearing about the initiative was, “When are we going to be involved in that?”
On a personal level, Beveridge’s question was answered in 2016 when the Air Force contacted his team at the Software Engineering Institute. Familiar with their experience in developing cyber training for the Department of Defense, the Air Force asked them to develop curriculum for Mission Defense Teams, dedicated cyber defense specialists. MDTs, the bulwark of cyber squadrons, work to protect the Air Force’s five core missions.
The training platform would be used to qualify MDTs at pathfinder units, pioneering communications squadrons that would form templates for other units to follow.
More recently, Beveridge is finding the answer to his question at YARS as he trains his team of Reserve Citizen Airmen via the same platform he helped develop through the Software Engineering Institute.
The 910th CS is slated to begin officially transforming into a cyber squadron in fiscal year 2019 by rolling out MDTs, but Beveridge’s initiative in developing, delivering, assessing and improving the training platform within the 910th has the unit ahead of schedule.
“That’s what I’ve been undertaking on the civilian side for the last two years,” Beveridge said. “Because of that, I’m able to bring that training here.”
Maj. Russell Whitlock is the commander of the 910th CS. He says MDTs are the primary focus in transforming communications squadrons into cyber squadrons. They help usher in an operational mindset rather than a support squadron mindset.
“The cyber squadron initiative, and internally to that, the MDT’s effort,” said Whitlock, “is to assure the mission and vision of the 910th Airlift Wing, to provide that current, qualified, mission-ready force by protecting the installation’s key cyber terrain.”
Whitlock sees tremendous advantage to having a highly-qualified asset such as Beveridge on hand during the transition.
“My job at the Software Engineering Institute is to train DoD in cyber security,” said Beveridge. “So a lot of my customers are the cyber mission force from U.S. Cyber Command. We developed an entry-level course in taking the cyber systems folks who are really trained to do information assurance and service delivery and training them to do cyber.”
As with any new undertaking, there are some questions that will need answered.
According to Whitlock, once a mission assurance mindset has fully set in, leaders will have to ensure that service delivery and support for network assets remain intact. Some of that will have to be formulated as the concept evolves.
Whitlock says the key question cyber squadrons hope to answer is, “can people actually do their jobs?” Their goal is to verify and ensure that people have safe and secure network assets that offer the full functionality necessary for their work. The goal is to promote mission assurance. Whitlock insists that with Beveridge’s unique skill set, forward-thinking approach and private career connections, he’ll be a critical part of the future.
Although Beveridge intentionally aligned his Reserve and civilian careers, he often marvels at just how well they mesh together. Some of his favorite endeavors have been hosting cyber skills competitions conducted by his Carnegie Mellon team but involving his 910th team.
A recent three-day event, Cyber Lightning, featured personnel from several military units competing in skill sets such as malware hunting, vulnerability detection and mitigation strategies within an exercise network platform. Such exercises allow Beveridge to see how well his training platforms are working by testing the very people those platforms target.
“Because I’m in those two worlds, it allows me to make that sort of thing happen,” said Beveridge. “That’s thrilling to me, I don’t ever want it to end.”
While both balancing and interweaving his Reserve duties with his civilian pursuits, Beveridge’s recent opportunities have awoken a newfound passion for education and mentorship. He is enrolled in a PhD program for instructional management and leadership through Robert Morris University.
“My goal is not just to educate myself but to mentor the next generation coming in,” said Beveridge, “to continue pushing that, educate, lead by example and really push, especially the younger troops, to never stop learning.”
The cyber squadron transformation is full of challenges, but due to the contributions of one 910th Reserve Citizen Airman, the transition is a bit smoother, both for the 910th and the Air Force as a whole.
(White is assigned to the 910th AW public affairs office.)