National Guard cyber warriors from seven states officially began the largest reserve component federal active duty cyber mobilization in Department of Defense history with a transfer of authority ceremony Aug. 15, 2017, at Fort Meade, Maryland. With a significant troop contribution and leadership from the Virginia National Guard, more than 130 Soldiers from California, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Utah came together to form Task Force Echo and assumed the mission from the 169th Cyber Protection Team. The task force will operate under the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade while on federal active duty to engineer, install, operate and maintain critical networks for U.S. Cyber Command.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and members of his cabinet joined Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, Commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command, Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, Director of the Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, as well as numerous other state Adjutants General, fellow Soldiers and family members for the ceremony.
“Today, more than ever, units from the Active Component, Army Reserve and Army National Guard train, deploy and serve side-by-side protecting our fellow citizens,” Kadavy said. “The strength of our Total Force is as evident in cyber protection as it is in any other Army mission. Across all three components, the Army is training these cyber mission force teams to one joint standard as defined by the U.S. Cyber Command.”
Nakasone praised the 169th for breaking new ground and being instrumental in doing defensive cyberspace operations, ensuring the success of the mission, and he credited them with laying the foundation for the success of future total force cyber operations.
“Our total force Army, our Army National Guard, our Army Reserve, all of these Soldiers, including the active component, will play a significant role in the future of securing cyberspace defense for our nation,” Nakasone said. “Today represents a very important milestone in the history of Army cyberspace operations. It marks not only the great progress the Army has made, but also highlights the important contributions the Reserve Component brings to the cyber mission force.”
Williams said he sees the Task Force Echo mission as the start of a substantial shift in how National Guard forces are identified for integration into the active duty cyber mission set. Now that more National Guard cyber units have been formed, he hopes there will be a routine process in how units are identified and trained, similar to the way National Guard units are identified for overseas mobilizations.
All the leaders agreed that the Task Force Echo mission brings together some of the best talent in the National Guard, and the experience they will gain by the end of the mission will benefit employers and their home states.
To prepare for the mission, the call went out to bring together some of best cyber and information technology professionals from across the country, explained Col. Adam Volant, commander of the task force.
“Our Soldiers bring together a unique collection of civilian work skills, and we have added specialized training to help make sure we are fully prepared for this mission,” Volant said. He explained that National Guard Soldiers bring skills and experience from a variety of backgrounds including academic institutions, Fortune 500 companies and state and federal governments.
“The really good news is that these Soldiers made the decision to serve, and we have brought together leading edge information technology professionals who are able to effectively blend together their civilian experience and credentials with their military training,” he said. “Soldiers like hard work, and for a cyber professional to be able to hone their skills in this mission, it is a privilege for them.”
Volant said that while employers are having to give up some of their most talented people during the mobilization, they will see a return on their investment.
“Our employers are at thrilled at the opportunity to get better trained people back when the mission is complete,” Volant said. The foundations in cyber security and information technology the Soldiers will develop will be something they can take back with them to their civilian jobs, he explained.
In addition to returning more skilled civilian professionals to their employers, the mission will also return more skilled Soldiers back to their home states to help build their cyber forces, Williams said.
“Many of these cyber units across the country have only existed for a few months, and we are growing capabilities every day, every week and every month,” Williams said. “The experience they take back to their home states will make those cyber units even better than they are right now.”
Kadavay said that whether it is responding to hazardous weather in the United States, helping fight our nation’s wars overseas or defending against highly skilled and hostile attackers in cyberspace, the most crucial element to success has been and always will be our Soldiers.
“While this ceremony features one commander passing authority to another, it’s not all about the individuals,” Kadavy said. “Today we recognize and honor the great work performed by the Soldiers in the 169th Cyber Protection Team throughout its four-year history. We also recognize that these same Soldiers, who helped establish the Army’s modern-day cyber protection mission, will continue to increase the Army’s ability to protect our country from cyber attacks. In reality, this mission is just beginning and it will continue to grow with the lightning speed of technology. And we know that because this mission is in your hands, it is in the best hands.”