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NEWS | March 2, 2022

Sixteenth Air Force Airmen mentor next cyber generation

By Rabia Coombs Sixteenth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) Public Affairs

At this year’s Texas Mayor’s Cyber Cup and College Fair in San Antonio Feb. 19, Sixteenth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) Airmen engaged with local youth to talk about the Information Warfare Numbered Air Force’s national security mission, as well as explain what a career as a cyber or intelligence professional may look like.

More than 300 high school and middle school students, all competitors in the Air Force Association CyberPatriot competition, their parents, mentors and industry representatives attended the college fair and award ceremony hosted by the CyberTexas Foundation.

CyberPatriot is a national youth cyber defense competition created by the AFA to inspire students toward cybersecurity or STEM careers. Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, commander, 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber), and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nierenberg honored the accomplishments of the competitors.

Adversaries and cybercriminals pose a significant threat to the nation and Sixteenth Air Force Airmen generate insights generating information warfare capabilities to produce timely effects in the information defending data, networks, and weapon systems against the malicious cyber activity, optimizing the cybersecurity of our current and future systems daily, explained Haugh.

“Our nation has a need for increasing cyber security workforce and professionals,” Haugh said. “What we see here (in San Antonio) is this culture of creating continued growing expertise in cyberspace. It is really exciting to be a part of it. In many ways what you were asked to do was analogous to what our Airmen do every single day. We were excited to see that you were challenged and that you all really took that challenge and were really motivated to find your way to solutions throughout this challenge.”

This year, 318 teams from across San Antonio and rural area schools participated in the CyberPatriot competition and among the nine recognized was Virginia Allred Stacey Jr/Sr High School from Joint Base San Antonio who earned the Best All Female High School Award.

Master Sgt. Patrick Weller, 616th Operations Center, is one of the Sixteenth Air Force mentors supporting the team. As a mentor, he teaches and provides support and guidance on a wide range of topics including networking with Packet Tracer, computer components, initial computer skills, and basic commands.

“We are only there to help create the environment, it’s up to them to do the research, practice their skills, and be successful,” Weller said.

He explained that programs like CyberPatriot help create a safer cyber environment by teaching the skills needed to combat modern challenges.

“We live in a digital world, and understanding what these resources can do, and how to safely manage them is essential,” Weller said. “I hope that those who walk away from CyberPatriot have a better understanding of computers, the network, and the digital world. I also hope they make it a safer more accommodating place for all of us.”

Cadet Senior Airman Kinsley Seiter, Medina High School Air Force JROTC competitor, echoed the sentiment.

“It’s important to practice and learn cyber because in the future we most likely will have more and more cyberattacks, it is an important skill to protect myself and others,” she said. “This is why it is important to have cyber at school to expand the cyber community and get younger people more interested and involved at an earlier age. I’ve learned that the internet and doing your own research can be your best friend. It’s important we all keep it safe.”

Her team, the Ragin’ Cyberpenos, earned the Rural High School Award.

During the college fair, Sixteenth Air Force Airmen answered questions and talked with students about the NAF and what pursuing a career in the service may look like as a cyber or intel professional. Information warfare Airmen are on the forefront of defending data, networks, and weapon systems against adversary malicious threats, optimizing the cybersecurity of our current and future systems every day.

Partnerships with academia and industry are a key component to maintain the superiority against adversaries; and programs like CyberPatriot are designed to pave the way for students to develop skills for tomorrow’s workforce in government or industry, explained Haugh.
“Our nation has a need for increasing cyber security workforce and professionals,” Haugh said. "Continue to be curious, continue to be able to solve and look for hard problems.”

The Sixteenth Air Force operates globally across nine wings and one center, integrating cyberspace operations; electromagnetic spectrum operations, information operations, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; weather operations, and other related capabilities.