HAMPTON, Va. –
The Virginia Air National Guard’s 185th Cyberspace Operations Squadron, 192nd Operations Group, 192nd Wing was recognized for their recent federal mobilization in support of United States Cyber Command’s 856th Cyber Protection Team and received the Virginia Governor’s National Service Medal at an end of mobilization ceremony Feb. 25, 2022, in Hampton, Virginia.
Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Bryan E. Salmon, the Assistant Adjutant General for ANG Strategic Initiatives, and Lt. Col. Jonathan Esparza, 185th COS commander, welcomed the Airmen back home during the event amongst family members and fellow Airmen.
“You did an incredibly important mission for the last [seven] months,” said Williams. “So much of what you did we can’t talk about in this environment. But, suffice it to say, you’re working in an environment that is absolutely contested…this is an absolute domain of combat and it is incredibly important.”
Williams presented the 185th COS Airmen with the medals. In addition, he presented his unique AG challenge coin to three members outside the organization representing active-duty Air Force, Maryland ANG and the 36th Intelligence Squadron from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, all of whom provided additional support to the recently formed CPT.
Consisting of members from Virginia, Maryland, Florida and Illinois, the 856th CPT supported this mobilization with a 185th COS captain acting as the team lead. After serving seven months on Title 10 status in support of USCYBERCOM, the 185th COS cyber defenders returned to the service of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“The team worked really hard, especially over the last year,” said the team lead. “I’m very proud of what they’ve done and accomplished. It was a pleasure to lead them. The support we received from the wing and the state was tremendous, and we wouldn't have been able to do what we did without them.”
Just prior to the mobilization, the squadron was able to focus on training, making elite cyber warfare operators. All members met or exceeded both AF standards and USCYBERCOM standards.
“We leveraged being a Guard unit and had everyone bring in a bit of their own [civilian] knowledge,” said a 185th COS cyber warfare operator. “That shared knowledge, leveraging both military and civilian resources, was instrumental in effectively accomplishing the mission.”
“During the course of the mission, we saw all of our training come to fruition,” he added. “Our team was able to innovate and adapt time and time again. We had three mission elements, but we were in constant communication, leveraging each and every member’s specialties so that we were able to not only accomplish the mission effectively and efficiently, but go above and beyond.”
Distinguishing themselves by outstanding achievement during this mobilization, two members were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and five received the Air Force Commendation Medal. These seven Airmen, ranging in ranks from staff sergeant to captain, reflect great credit upon themselves, the ANG, and the United States Air Force.
“The lessons that you’ve learned, the service that you provided to our Air Force and to our nation certainly drew a lot of attention,” said Williams. “As you watch the news and watch the events unfold over the coming months, there’s a high probability our cyber warriors are going to be called on again. This organization has not existed all that long, and you have quickly become one of the most utilized pieces of force structure in our inventory. And, that’s not going to slow down. What gives me great hope is that you represent an organization, a culture, that are committed, professional and are here to do the job. I rest easy with that knowledge. Thanks for what you do.”
Salmon was the 192nd Operations Group commander during the time the 185th COS was established. He personally signed the onboarding paperwork for many of the Airmen that were part of the mobilization and expressed how proud he was of them and their accomplishments.
“You guys are absolutely crushing it,” said Salmon. “We’re getting minimum feedback on how you are doing because there is no negative feedback that’s going on. And that’s a good thing. It is necessary for you to not just be cyber operators, because that’s not what you are in my mind, you guys are warfighters. You guys are doing things on levels that people have not done before. And that’s amazing. I can’t tell you how proud I am.”
“The Bats” ceremoniously removed their 856th CPT patch, replacing it with the 185th COS bat patch, marking their return to the VaANG.
Prior to the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Toni M. Lord, Virginia National Guard Air Component Commander, stopped by to coin each member of the CPT. She was presented with an umbrella signed by the members in recognition of her speech given in the pouring rain during their send off ceremony in August 2021.
Created in 2005 by then-Governor Mark R. Warner, the Governor's National Service Medal recognizes the service of the men and women of the Virginia Army and Air National Guard called to active federal duty since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.