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NEWS | March 11, 2013

Cyber warrior earns highest civilian award

By L.A. Shively JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs

The Air Force has a secret weapon in its arsenal of defense against computer-generated threats to military and U.S. commercial operations.

That secret weapon is none other than cyber "Wonder Woman" Angelica Collazo, a senior analyst with the 92nd Information Operation Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
Collazo was recognized for her work with cyber space security and received the Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. recently. The award is the highest honor given by the Secretary of Defense to career civilian personnel.

Accompanied by her father, Francisco Collazo, members of her family and Lt. Col. David Neuman, former commander of 92 IOS to Washington, D.C. to receive her award, she said it was the first time for members of her family to visit the U.S. Capitol. A native Texan, Collazo was born and raised in San Antonio.

Her role defending cyber space was sort of an accident, she said. Collazo's 24-year career with the Air Force began as a missile software engineer and then migrated into cyber security as a result of base closure and realignment.

Employed at then Kelly Air Force Base, a friend found an announcement for a position with a project titled "C4ISR" or Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

"I had no idea what the acronym meant," she said, adding she didn't think she had a chance with only six years of experience.

Her friend insisted Collazo apply, encouraging the engineer to stress her abilities to lead, direct and manage. She applied and was selected over a large number of other candidates. Collazo learned later that she was the only person to say she actually wanted the job during the interview.

Over the last 17 years Collazo was instrumental in the Air Force's on-going cyber defenses by developing and employing technological sensors to "sniff" code and send alerts when an anomaly occured during operations. Alerts are shared with other services and agencies through the U.S. Cyber Command's global database to help U.S. forces and organizations around the world share cyber incident information.

She led development of the Air Force's incident handling database, the first version of the joint database and hailed as a benchmark for cyber security. Still used to alert joint CERTs or computer emergency response teams to cyber-strikes, the database, currently transitioning into the Joint Incident Management System, is especially effective against simultaneous assaults against multiple systems.

"If the adversary is attacking the Air Force, then most likely it is attacking each of the other services and governmental agencies," Collazo said.

She said she is proud of the 92nd IOS and shares in the Squadron's traditions.
Collazo describes her current Squadron's functions as paralleling a security detail that clears, sweeps and holds a section of cyber space for events of sorts, and then cleans up afterward.

"We're called the Skulls so it's great to be part of heraldry and part of a military operation. It's very different from being the engineer, behind the scenes making stuff happen, building the technologies, the policies and implementing things - to actually being on the operations side conducting operations."

Collazo believes San Antonio is the Silicon Valley of cyber security. "If the growth of the 24th Air Force is an indication, then yes we are."