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Home : News : News
NEWS | May 30, 2023

688th Cyberspace Wing annual tactical exercise enhances cyber defense operations, engages mission partners worldwide

By apt. Nadine Wiley De Moura 688th Cyberspace Wing Public Affairs

The 688th Cyberspace Wing conducted its fourth annual tactical level exercise, "Savage Cerberus 23," comprised of four defensive cyberspace operations weapon systems and the 88th Communication Squadron Mission Defense Team from March 27- April 7, 2023, at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology at Port San Antonio.

The 688th Cyberspace Wing — America’s First Cyberspace Wing -- has a mission to securely connect the Air Force to Fly, Fight and Win.

The Wing is manned by 3,300 Airmen, Guardians, civilians and contractors located in regions throughout the world who secure the Air Force enterprise and DODIN mission entities. The 688th Cyberspace Wing builds, engineers and installs Air Force Network infrastructure providing Air Force enterprise mission services for 850,000 users worldwide and defending $14.2 billion in enterprise network and key mission systems.

”Savage Cerberus 2023 provided a pivotal event for Airmen across our enterprise to rehearse finding, fixing, and finishing threats to the network,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Mickey Jordan, 690th Cyberspace Operations Group commander and A2/3 Directorate for the 688th Cyberspace Wing.

“We had nearly 100 Airmen from 12 active duty and Reserve units coming together to refine our procedures, our command and control, and the integration of skillsets. For many of these Airmen, it was the first time they'd worked with professionals in other squadrons in person. Savage Cerberus is a crucial part of our success in integrated operations.”

Airman 1st Class Aden Gonzales of the 83rd Network Operations Squadron traveled from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, to participate in the exercise and manage domain control services to make sure exercise participant accounts and servers were healthy.

“I am defending the network by making accounts and regulating them,” Gonzales said. “This is the first line of defense to ensure accounts cannot move laterally.”

The exercise presented a fast-paced environment and opportunity for Squadrons who are geographically separate to observe how their mission effect each other in real time.

“It is a good learning experience, and I am putting names to faces,” Gonzales said. “Some of the Airmen I have worked with, worked on their tickets and never met them but I have talked to their leadership before and answered questions.”

Airman 1st Class Magaret Klenck, storage and virtualization operator of the 691st Cyberspace Operations Squadron based in Ramstein, Germany agreed, adding that she cannot do her job without accounts.

“The storage and virtualization environment cannot be built without profiles and usernames,” Klenck said.

This is the first year the exercise has storage and virtualization personnel participating.

“SVO is testing capabilities for 688th Cyberspace Wing range builders next year to have a higher impact on the exercise,” Klenck added.

“It is all a learning experience. Back home, some of the tasks that I am doing right now I wouldn’t be able to do. It is like a baby environment building it from the ground up.”

Outside of the building a team of Airmen from the 52nd Combat Communications Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, set up a dish to imitate a deployed scenario where operators who operate off of contingency communications.

“In a deployed scenario, we would break away into a small team and provide operators with the same connection that they currently have — commercial internet,” said U.S. Air Force Wade Manchio, tactical communicator of the 52nd Combat Communications Squadron.

During the second week of the exercise, the wing hosted University of Texas at San Antonio U.S. Air Force ROTC Detachment 842 cadets and provided briefings about the exercise, the cyber and Air Force career field.

“We talk about it a lot but to actually see an active-duty total force operation happening and carrying out actions on weapon systems and receive briefing from senior leaders is a great opportunity for the cadets to see cyber in action,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Landon Prendergast, UTSA AFROTC Detachment 842 instructor and Cyber Officer.

“This kind of exposure makes me excited and hopefully churns their excitement for the future ahead of them,” said Prendergast, who received his commission from the University of Arizona AFROTC program.

UTSA has moved up in the national ranks as highly recognized cyber security program, he added.

“Combined with the resources within Military City USA and the 688th Cyberspace Wing as one of the homes of Air Forces Cyber—it is too lucrative of an opportunity to not embrace for our cadets,” Prendergast said. “This is our first time attending a cyber operation exercise and we are hoping to grow interest in cyber operations within our detachment. We are in a unique place because we produce almost as many cyber officers as we do rated officers.”

For many of the cadets visiting it was their first time interacting with Air Force Officers outside of the program.

“Here we get to see what officers do and envision how we would fit into that mission,” said second-year UTSA AFROTC cadet Mary Vallor.

“This is my second time seeing cyber officers and seeing an exercise happen in person. It is exciting being here and it really opens my eyes to think about how a few years from now I will be one of the people at these desks directing the Airmen.”

Following the cadet’s visit to the exercise, the range operators received dozens of visitors from local units, most notably a group of Inter-American Air Force Academy students comprised of Colombian National Police, largely from the municipality of Bogota.

The IAAFA students serve as intel officers, cyber operators and administers in their roles and were attending the academy for a Cyber Fundamentals Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance course.

“It is the first time the IAAFA has done something like this where we bring our students to see how cyber operations work on the Air Force network in real-time — the students were excited to leave the classroom,” said U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Salvador Chavez, cyber instructor, 837th Training Squadron, Air Education and Training Command.

“The exercise allows the students to see the difference between how they operate and how the U.S. Air Force carries out their mission in cyber security so that they can implement the same tools to fortify their defenses in the cyber realm.”

Jesus Valdez, range planner of the 318th Cyber Operations Group, 67th Cyberspace Wing was responsible for inviting and coordinating IAAFA’s visit.

The cadets received an intel brief overview from the Mission Defense Team, 88th Communications Squadron, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

“It helps the academy partner with the local cyber population and resource local training and knowledge to help our mission partners gain a shared understanding as well,” said Chavez.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Yaereem Lee, a cyber officer and crew commander of the 690th Cyberspace Operations Squadron based at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, expressed excitement to have the opportunity to be a mission commander during the exercise.

“This is my first experience with a large force employment exercise where it entails unit squadrons and a joint mission responding to the different erosion of systems,” said Lee, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“I just went through the tactical planners course so I am getting real-time practice on what I learned it a week ago — it is still fresh in my mind. It is a good opportunity to see the integration of weapon systems together.”

Lee and other officers at the mission command desk shared that a lot of times they are working on “bottle-necked” weapon systems and it is the only capability they have on hand. The exercise provides them a plethora of weapons systems to respond to network and system erosions.

“It is cool seeing all of the puzzle pieces coming together--active duty and reserve units and learning more about what they do.”

Throughout the event participants from local and geographically separated units exchanges patches and worked together to innovate.

Michael Koeck, 688th Cyberspace Wing chief of exercise, deemed the event a success and hopes that as more participants share their positive experiences with their units, it will generate more participants.

Koeck expects the event to grow next year as the Combat Communications Group will become more integrated into the exercise and bring a bigger communications package.”

“It exposed our operators to some cyber techniques that they don’t normally see on a daily basis in a short amount of time,” Koeck said.

“They were provided with the opportunity to integrate with other systems and see the effects they carry out so that we can better collaborate in real time to get after defensive cyberspace operations.”