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Homeland Security

Competition integrates cyber capabilities, encourages new ideas

5/27/2011 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) -- Airmen from the 67th Network Warfare Wing took part in the first Cyber Nexus competition here May 17 to 19.

The force-on-force event brought together operators from the Air Force's four cyber disciplines to compete as integrated teams. The four disciplines are network operations, defensive operations, offensive operations and electronic systems security assessments.

"This is the first time we've done an integrated exercise where all facets are working together in tandem for a common goal," said Col. Kevin Wooton, the 67th Network Warfare Wing commander. "For us to be able to (bring these components) together is critical as we really start to look at operating in the cyber domain with full spectrum operations. It's important to break down those walls and start to operate together."

He said that typically during exercises each subcomponent is tested individually, an artificiality that prevents Airmen from thinking outside the box and truly understanding how they're supposed to work together.

One multi-disciplined team was positioned at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and one was here in the Air Force Network Integration Center. Both teams were given the task of defending the networks and assuring the mission operations of five bases, along with a series of notional missions to produce military-type effects, such as obtaining a piece of information, defending a capability, etc.

Teams not only received points for completing their mission but also for how well they used all four disciplines in the competition, so it was in the best interest of each team to take full advantage of all its capabilities.

"It is very, very difficult to pioneer a new way of doing business," Colonel Wooton said. "In other opportunities where we've had a chance to fight each other, and to fight other operators, we have tended not to integrate. We had (U.S. Cyber Command) people here observing, to find out how we do this, because they want to expand on it.

"When a fighter pilot goes to Red Flag, he expects to fly against the very best," the colonel said. "Now we will do the same."

The competition took place outside of the Air Force network through the Simulated Training Exercise range, a project led by the Air Force Network Integration Center. SIMTEX closely models the Air Force's three-tiered network operations and security structure, giving cyber warriors valuable hands-on experience within a safe, secure environment. The realistic environment also helps Airmen to view military operations holistically, encouraging them to move beyond a "defend the network" mentality and focus on assuring the mission.

"(Cyberspace) is an environment that's not bounded the same way as the three physical dimensions, and it's not limited in the time environment nearly as much, so there are a lot of requirements in order to make something that seems real enough," Colonel Wooton said. "We've had that capability for cyber, often times as a side role of a larger exercise. The facility here and the SIMTEX have been a part of that from the get go."

After competing in "normal activities" on day one of the actual competition, the second day saw the "gloves come off" with bolder missions designed to stimulate team interaction. Intermingling of disciplines was encouraged, enabling competitors to cross duty lanes in the hopes of enhancing teamwork and fostering new ideas.

"You have to figure out communications flow and make it gel as one," said Michael Manfredonia, a cyberspace operator from the 315th Network Warfare Squadron at Fort Meade, Md.

He said that through the challenges of a new competition, in the end the event "was fruitful."

"I liked working together and seeing the bigger picture," said Airman 1st Class James Hilty, a cyberspace operator with the 352nd Network Warfare Squadron at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. "I got to use tools in a way I normally don't."

Teams received points throughout the competition, with the Scott Air Force Base team coming out on top with 1039 points, but the Gunter team did not trail far behind with a total of 947 points.

"Look how close the score was," Colonel Wooton said when he announced the winner at a wing commander's call May 23. "These (Scott AFB) guys did great; the guys at Gunter did great. The winning score was just a few points over, when there were thousands that were available. That demonstrated the amazing effort on both sides."

While the Scott team received the most points, the teams were built with members from every squadron so that no matter which team was declared the winner, every participating squadron won and gained a new understanding of their role within the Air Force cyber mission.

"(I hope) folks realize that this is all part of the team and we can all work together to get things done that we never would have dreamed of before," Colonel Wooton said. "We have some really bright Airmen. (Their ideas) could end up turning into our tactics, techniques and procedures of the future. They continue to water people's eyes as we grow in these capabilities."

These individuals were recognized for their performance during the competition:

Superior performers:

Gunter team: Paul Dewitt, 26th Network Operations Squadron
Scott team: Tech. Sgt. Joshua Breazeale, Det. 4, 83rd NOS

Top team performers:

Gunter team: Tech. Sgt. Geoffrey Mefford, 315th Network Warfare Squadron; Senior Airman Rebecca Gagnon, 561st NOS
Scott team: Staff Sgt. Michael Manfredonia, 315th NWS; Staff Sgt. Matthew Saum, 561st NOS

Commander recognition award:

Gunter team: Staff Sgt. Daniel Wooten, 690th Network Support Squadron
Scott team: 2nd Lt. Daniel Gunter, 33rd NWS

White cell top performers:

Capt. Clay Cross, 67th Network Warfare Group
Senior Airman Christopher Dial, 690th NSS

(Courtesy of Air Force Network Integration Center Public Affairs and 24th Air Force Public Affairs)

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