JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
More than 80 Civil Air Patrol cadets and adult members attended the 2017 Cyber Defense Training Academy June 11-17 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, setting a new participation record for the joint 24th Air Force-Civil Air Patrol program.
Founded in 2014 by Majs. Jacob Stauffer and Nicholas R. McLarty, the CDTA consists of four courses taught by 24th AF volunteers and aimed at introducing participants to military cyberspace operations and cyberspace security.
Four years ago, 38 cadets attended the first-ever CDTA. Since then the program has grown exponentially, adding to its core Cyberspace Familiarization Course, or CFC, an additional three new courses focusing on advanced security concepts, network infrastructure, and instructor education and training. The Cyberspace Networking Course, or CNC, is a new addition for 2017, focusing on preparing students to earn a CompTIA Network+ certification.
CDTA is not a simple program. The weeklong academy challenges cadets from the very first briefing. During the week attendees study cyberspace concepts, receive mission briefings, and conduct laboratories and training exercises. They sleep in military barracks, eat at military dining facilities and spend their evenings interacting with military and cyberspace experts. The training culminates in a five-hour exercise known as GRADEX designed to put academics to practical use and test cadet leaders in planning and executing a cyber-defensive mission.
Facing such daunting coursework, why has the course seen such a surge in participation?
“Our members want to be part of the future,” said Maj. Jacob Stauffer, Civil Air Patrol’s National Cadet Cyber Programs Coordinator and one of the founders of CDTA. “CAP members executing Air Force missions are starting to see a paradigm shift with technology and how we use it to conduct operations. CAP members want that opportunity to train, equip, and defend our national cyber infrastructure, and it starts with programs like this one.”
CDTA is not only a challenge for students. First Lt. Victoria Rathbone, Chief of Tactics Integration for the 33rd NWS, spearheaded the Air Force effort, including locating and training instructors and ensuring access to secured facilities for the 80-plus attendees. Instructors from across 24th AF volunteered their time to teach on cyber topics as Subject Matter Experts or act as escorts and tour guides.
Despite the challenge Rathbone says tackling the program was a delight. “Promoting STEM programs has always been a great interest of mine. Programs like CDTA are a great vehicle for the students to build a strong foundation in cyberspace that will help them in the future, no matter what career path they choose.”
Luke Paine, a Civil Air Patrol cadet who both attended CDTA in previous years and now facilitates, explains that participation awakened in him a passion for training the next generation of cyber warriors. “I have seen many cadets and seniors realize how big of a role they can play in making the internet a safer place, even if it is just taking some of the security principles we teach into their own homes.”
The students’ enthusiasm was noted by many of the CDTA coordinators. “What impressed me the most about the cadets was their ability to work together to achieve their goals,” Rathbone said. “These students had a wide range of experience levels in cyber, but the more experienced cadets would always help those who were struggling so that no one would fall behind. They also had unwavering curiosity. No matter the subject being presented, there was never a shortage of questions being asked, and the intensity and depth of the questions was always surprising.”
Civil Air Patrol has long been a forerunner of STEM education in middle and high school. CDTA is one of more than 50 National Cadet Special Activities for CAP junior cadet and senior staff members within the field of defensive cyberspace operations.
CAP annually participates in the AFA CyberPatriot competition and draws thousands of its members from across the nation to defend networks and harden systems from intrusion. CDTA students often participate in CyberPatriot, in addition to going on to prestigious opportunities like internships, college to study in computer security related fields or full time cyber-security jobs.
“We have had multiple cadets completely change their possible area of study from meteorology, business, or the like to cyber security,” Stauffer said. “As we speak we have a handful of cadets working toward their bachelor’s degree, at four-year universities and military schools, in computer science or engineering with a focus in security. And we’ve had multiple high school cadets from our program earn internships or full-time jobs with companies like Lockheed Martin, the 67th Cyberspace Wing, and Infocyte to name a few.”
The CDTA is on course to keep growing. “Like cyber, our program is consistently evolving in efforts to better prepare our students, cadet and adult, for a career in cyber security,” Stauffer said.