The Air Force Reserve values cyber skills
Civilians with experience are more than welcome; training is available for those with aptitude. Reserve cyber experience can boost a civilian career
'In the military, as in the private sector, cyber is a growth industry,” says Col Christopher Nick, commander of the Air Force Reserve Command recruiting service at Robins Air Force Base, GA. Nick and his staff of 450 are responsible for recruiting all uniformed reservists of the Air Force Reserve.
Nick is also responsible for AF Reserve workforce planning, and is acutely aware of the importance of cyber skills to the air force and other military branches. “Our cyber focus areas are cyber control, the infrastructure and operations of the air force computer systems; and cyber defense, which includes both security and potential cyber attack capabilities,” he explains. “Everything supports the air force mission: fly, fight and win, in air, space and cyberspace.”
Serving with cyber skills
Anyone interested in joining the Air Force Reserve must qualify for military service, Nick explains, which includes being eligible for a security clearance and passing a medical examination.
Today’s would-be reservist can start the process of joining at afreserve.com, or by contacting an Air Force Reserve recruiter. Candidates must enlist before the age of thirty-nine, although people with past military service can sometimes join at a later age, depending on a variety of factors.
The Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery test is required of all candidates, but someone with private sector cyber experience “would almost certainly qualify for a cyber career field in the Air Force Reserve,” Nick says.
Enlisted airmen report for eight weeks of basic training followed by two months or more of fulltime technical training. Trainees learn the cyber requirements of air force systems and the specific functions they’ll be performing as reservists. Once the training course is over, “citizen airmen” reservists serve a minimum of one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
A cyber jack of all trades
Cyber pros in the Air Force Reserve do jobs that range from helping a fellow airman establish an e-mail account to defending military networks from hackers. “Cyber operators serve as the jack of all trades, responsible for servers and clients, hardware and software, and user-based and system-based issues,” Nick reports. They may build custom servers and computers, or set up and maintain connections with satellites.
“Some cyberspace professionals in the Air Force Reserve have cyberspace attack duties, which means they operate a cyberspace weapons system that’s poised to attack foreign enemy communications networks at any time,” he adds.
Citizen airmen serving in the cyberspace field monitor the offensive and defensive capabilities of many potential threats, and are exposed to a broad range of systems and tactics in information protection and assurance, from simple to state-of-the-art.
An investment in the future
Reservists are critical to the smooth operation of the air force, Nick says. “We all work together as one force. The fulltime person on active duty is a critical part of that, but we also focus on the citizen airmen, people who are embedded in their communities, working in the cyber world. We give them the advantage of serving their country and experiencing the rewards of military leadership and service.”
At the same time, reserve service can further personal financial goals, as reservists are paid for their service and accumulate military retirement credits.
Building a cyber career
The Air Force Reserve helps its members develop valuable cyber skills, Nick notes. A candidate who scores well on the relevant sections of the aptitude test can receive in-depth technical training, even with no prior cyber experience. Any high school grad who is at least eighteen can apply, and the Reserve offers a variety of educational benefits that can help pay for college.
“New college grads who are not sure where their careers are headed, or those who need experience to round out their resumes, might want to try the Air Force Reserve,” Nick notes. When candidates pass the physical and medical requirements and show an aptitude for cyber work, there may be an opportunity to train with their Reserve unit full time for more than a year, with health and other benefits: eight weeks of basic training, a period of technical school training, plus several months of on-the-job cyber training. Additional training options, including a variety of technical certificate courses, are available to reservists.
Diversity is a focus
“Our first priority is to attract qualified and talented applicants of all backgrounds,” Nick says, “but we also make a point of reaching out to diverse groups with our recruiting efforts. The air force has many opportunities for women and minorities, and the Reserve mirrors that. To ensure the message about our opportunities is made available to the widest demographic, we recruit at conventions such as the Tuskegee Airmen, Women in Aviation, LULAC, and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, among others. We know that diversity is key to our success.”
Veterans of any branch of the military are particularly welcome, he adds, because their experience brings them up to speed quickly.
Additional qualifications – a second language, for example – can also land a reservist in some interesting assignments. “We try to put our new recruits in the best position to utilize the skill sets they already have, while educating and training them to give them the skill sets we need them to have,” Nick emphasizes.
The Air Force builds leaders
“In addition to technical training, we stress leadership and supervisory training throughout our airmen’s careers. Our citizen airmen can turn around and leverage that leadership skill and grow in their civilian career, giving them a distinct advantage over their non-military peers,” Nick notes.
“Our cyber specialists, and all our reservists, get valuable experience as well as the satisfaction of serving their nation.”
||Robins Air Force Base, GA
||57,000 total reservists;
8,968 air reserve techs;
||Support of the Air Force
in national defense