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Home : News : News
NEWS | Sept. 17, 2014

Civil Air Patrol goes cyber in new training

By Richard Erickson JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs

Thirty-eight Civil Air Patrol cadets participated last month in the first-of-its-kind computer security training here.

Then, taking their final series of tests, they headed back to their home squadrons across the nation to teach others the lessons they learned.

Like the Space Familiarization Course at Peterson Air Force Base, the Cyberspace Familiarization Course was designed to give CAP cadets an introduction to defensive cyberspace operations.

The goal is to familiarize cadets with Air Force defensive cyber operations and develop CAP teams to participate in the CyberPatriot national youth cyber education program and competition beginning in fall 2015. CyberPatriot was created in 2009 by the Arlington, Va.-based non-profit Air Force Association to inspire high school and middle school students to pursue careers in cyber security or a related science, technology, engineering and mathematics field.

The competition, focused on five-member cadet teams defending virtual networks from a professional IT "aggressor," is divided into two divisions, one for all high schools and one specifically for military service organizations including JROTC, Naval Sea Cadet Corps and CAP.

The problem was there was a lack of formalized training in computer security and information assurance for potential CAP CyberPatriot competitors. "A lot of squadrons all over the nation have taken it upon themselves to find experts in the field and develop the curriculum and training," explained Jacob Stauffer, 33rd Network Warfare Squadron director of operations support flight and chief of the forensic and malware analysis section. "But that's only a piecemeal effort.

"In the open division, schools tend to set up classes and formal courses throughout the year, giving students at least an hour a day or a couple of hours a week throughout all of the school year," he explained. "CAP cadets would get maybe a few hours a month of instruction. So the gap was significantly large."

Stauffer, a 16-year CAP member and commander of the Lackland Cadet Squadron based at JBSA-Lackland Kelly Field, decided to do something about that.

"I had started teaching CyberPatrol courses about three years ago," he said. "One of the things I realized was that I was teaching the same material every year, and it was all basic. It's very hard to get one team going and have them return to compete every year."

He decided to create the Cyber Defense Training Academy with the sole mission of educating CAP cadets in computer security and information assurance. Then with Air Force and CAP leadership support, developed the week long Cyberspace Familiarization Course which, in its inaugural year, received National Cadet Special Activity credit.

CAP National Cadet Special Activities are weeklong programs designed to give cadets hands-on experience in a specific field, usually related to aviation, but this one targets computer security in preparation for the national CyberPatriot competition.

"This is designed to be a nationwide program to get CAP units together in one place and level the playing field. The idea is that, once they go back to their squadrons and their individual teams, they can focus on little things like developing checklists and honing their skills for a certain part of the competition. It gives them the tools beforehand to be effective."

Tentatively setting the class at 10 to 20 students, Stauffer secured funding for food and lodging for the cadets through a $6,600 donation from the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. That was important, he noted, because some other NCSAs are expensive, costing as much as $1,500 for a week's instruction.
"When I grew up as a cadet, my parents didn't have that much money to blow on one activity," he explained. "So I worked very hard to whittle it down to about $50, not including travel expenses."

Additional help came in the form of the Inter-American Air Forces Academy agreeing to the use of its barracks for lodging at no cost to the cadets, and the 802nd Force Support Squadron allowing cadets to use its dining facility at a reduced cost to the academy.

The idea was that the course would be held in some remote location, probably with a room filled with borrowed laptops. That plan in place, Stauffer discussed it with his commander Lt. Col. Joy Kaczor, 33rd NWS commander. "She literally told me, "We're having it here." The squadron also volunteered to provide a facility for the cadets' training.
Overall, 36 military, reservists and civilian personnel from 11 24th Air Force units provided curriculum development, mission briefs, and mentoring sessions for the cadets attending the course.

That conversation grew into a briefing with then-Maj. Gen. James McLaughlin, who at the time was commander of 24th Air Force. "I began to talk and the first thing out of his mouth was, 'You're pitching it to me, but that's pretty much a formality. I'm approving it,'" Stauffer said. "From what I gather from other CAP members, this is the first time a general, whether a one star or four star, actually endorsed a CAP activity."

Approved as a NSCA, more than 60 cadets from all over the nation applied for the program. "If I could have taken 60, I would have, but we could only take 40," he added. "The average NCSA is about 20 cadets, so the fact we have nearly 40 indicates how successful it has been in its inaugural year. That's a pretty big deal."

The fully developed course had cadets, in addition to receiving daily cyber unit mission briefs and tours, participating in four days of academic instruction in computer networking, operating system theory, and computer and network security, all taught by Air Force cyber operators.

On the fifth day of the course, cadets, in six-cadet teams, competed against each other in a "Cyber Defense Competition" designed to be a practical application for lessons learned throughout the week.

Five other senior CAP members, usually former cadets 18 or older who help support and manage CAP squadrons, volunteered to pay their own expenses, left their jobs in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas for a week and came to JBSA-Lackland to help Stauffer with the program and chaperone the 38 cadets from 16 states.

Although the cadets selected acknowledged the week was tough -- each day began at 5:30 a.m. with physical training and uniform inspections and ended each night with long sessions studying the 400-page course curriculum book Stauffer and 33rd NWS personnel created; there was a test on the previous day's material every morning -- the reaction to the course was overwhelmingly positive.

"We tried to make a CyberPatriot group at my squadron, but we didn't have the funding or computers at the time," explained Cadet 2nd Lt. Honorette Remling from CAP's Pennsylvania Wing and a high school junior. "Now we've found that funding and now, with my experience, we can start this training."

"These are skills that I enjoy learning and can grasp -- as long as I ask the right questions," added Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Sam Collins, a high school junior who is part of CAP's Florida Wing. "We're learning about the Linux operating system. You have to do a lot of command line work, and I'm not a big fan. But it's easier once you learn what all the dashes and backslashes mean."

While familiarizing cadets and senior members with the Air Force units conducting defensive cyberspace operations, the focus of most of the instruction was computer and network fundamentals, operating system theory, and how to secure Windows and Linux systems from malicious users.

The national CyberPatriot competition supplied the program with "virtual images," representations of operating systems with known flaws or security vulnerabilities. The goal is to find and fix the flaws while, at the same time, keeping specified computer functions like email working. On the final day of the activity, armed with what they learned, the cadets, broken into teams, attempted to secure those workstations within a five-hour time period.

Some cadets already with some computer training were named "staff members," and helped other cadets during the week as mentors, even while being responsible for their own work and passing all of the same tests.

Cadets took an initial assessment before the course and an exit assessment at its conclusion. The result was a 27-percent average increase in test scores, and a 100-percent graduation rate.

"The Cyberspace Familiarization Course was a groundbreaking event that provided Civil Air Patrol cadets with a foundational understanding of defensive cyberspace operations," noted Kaczor. "I'm so proud that the 33rd NWS was able to host the course in our alternate operations floor because it provided the cadets with the opportunity to learn first-hand from Air Force cyber operators in a real operations environment."

Last year's CyberPatriot competition saw more than 1,500 teams participate. This year, state competitions, including one for Texas, take place in October. Regionals come next and, in March, the winners of those contests meet in Washington, D.C., for the national finals.

In addition to national recognition, the winners are eligible for scholarships. "I'm hoping this becomes sort of like a train-the-trainer exercise," Stauffer said. "I hoping they will take this information, including the 400-page book, and use it to train their own teams back at their home squadrons. It is one thing for them to come here and maybe go over a few PowerPoint slides and take a few labs. But this is something more tangible they can take back with them and really use."

For more information about the Cyberspace Familiarization Course, staff members or its overall mission, visit Civil Air Patrol's Cyber Defense Training Academy's website at