Workforce one of three keys to Army's cyber future

Monday - 8/29/2011, 5:05am EDT

Jared Serbu, DoD reporter, Federal News Radio

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By Jared Serbu
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Less than a year after it first became operational, the Army's cyber command is facing one of the same challenges that the rest of the military services and many civilian agencies are up against: recruiting and retaining a workforce that can fight in and defend cyberspace.

Growing an effective cyber workforce that can support the needs of the Army's operational commanders is one of three lines of effort the fledgling cyber command is pursuing as part of a new strategic plan. As part of its goal toward the network of the year 2020, the Army envisions elite, specialized cyber units that are pervasive throughout the service and can embed with even the smallest Army organization to deliver offensive and defensive capabilities.

The right force at the right time

Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, who heads Army cyber command, said it may turn out that some of the specialties Army officers are trained in today need to change in order to better reflect what it means to be a cyber warrior.

"I think we'll find, as we found about a dozen years ago when we created several new functional areas for the officer corps, that there are some functions we're doing that need to be modified," Hernandez said at the close of the Army's LandWarNet conference in Tampa, Fla. Thursday. "I don't know what those are, but I know the last time we did this hard work in 1998, we created about a dozen new functional areas. It takes us ten years to grow a major, and more to get the depth of skills we need in critical functions, which is why doing this work is so important.

But Hernandez said developing uniformed officers with cyber know-how is only part of the equation. He said the Army needs to take advantage of all the potential cyber personnel it has at its disposal.

"We really need to look across the entire Army, active, guard and reserve, we need to look across military and civilian, and we need leader-development programs that will allow us to ensure we have the right force at the right time," he said.

Part of the answer, Hernandez said, is integrating cyber skills that American workers in the private sector already have. It just so happens, he said, that many of those same workers also happen to be Army National Guard and Army Reserve members.

"Some of you are sitting out there now with technical degrees and great skills that I would love to get at, but in many ways, our current personnel policies don't allow us to do that easily," he told a mostly Army audience. "Rather than just leveraging the unit capability, I really intend to leverage the individual capability. We need your skills, and we need ways to bring you in easily so you can bring us the critical expertise you have."

Leverage existing skills

The Army is also working on a pilot program it's calling the Green Pages, a talent management system the service hopes will help find skills it already has among its personnel but just doesn't know about. Soldiers and civilians can build a social networking-style profile that includes their own personal background, skills and education.

"They say, 'I've got these special skills, can you find me a position that would allow me to leverage those skills?' I want to do that across the entire cyber warrior force and help you develop what we think all our requirements are, including the things you already have under your belt," he said. "Then we can start building our capability where we know we have skills. We can use them now, or we can work to find them immediately when we need them."

Hernandez, asked by an audience member whether the Army would face challenges recruiting young cyber talent given the "rather non-military characteristics of the personnel who possess those skills," answered with a resounding no.

The problem isn't culture, and the young officers and enlisted soldiers entering the Army now are enthusiastic about cyber, he said. Rather, the real challenge is one that faces the nation as a whole: declining competencies in science, technology, engineering and math among American students.

"STEM for the nation really needs to increase, and we can't be competing against each other to recruit talent because this is a national challenge," he said. "Our ability to do that at younger and younger ages will be even more important as we have an increasing need to outthink and outmaneuver our adversaries."