ST. LOUIS COUNTY --The military may have to change its culture to retain and recruit the best cyber warriors, according to a briefing Monday with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and leaders of the Missouri National Guard's cyber team.
In a conference room at Jefferson Barracks, the guardsmen told McCaskill, D-Mo., the story about a standout member of their specialized group of citizen soldiers and airmen who was a computer whiz yet struggled to pass physical fitness requirements. He nearly lost his position.
McCaskill said that didn't make sense.
"Having that physical capability is very, very important, but if you are part of an elite team that is working in a cyber space, where we are trying to go toe-to-toe with people who have no constitutions . . . who have no rules they have to obey . . . we have to get the best and the brightest," she said. "I am not sure that's always the guy who can do the most sit-ups."
McCaskill said she planned to take stories such as this one back to Washington, where she is part of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Other points of concern raised at the briefing included an apparent lack of cooperation in cyber-defense matters between the Department of Homeland Security and guard units such as Missouri's.
"It's like the DHS doesn't know the National Guard exists in this domain," said Missouri Air National Guard Capt. Kevin Keeney, adding: "We should be working on how to work together and play together."
But hiring, training and retention seemed to be on the top of the list of concerns.
McCaskill lauded the Missouri Guard's cyber team for what it has been able to accomplish with limited funding. For instance, Keeney, who ran the briefing, has ongoing expertise in both private and military sectors.
Try to hack into Monsanto's network and it's Keeney who you will face. He is the director of the cyber and incident response team at Monsanto. He is also a member of the guard.
"I love serving the country," said Keeney, 40, of Osage County.
Guard units typically train one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. The cyber team was called up for service during unrest in Ferguson when groups tried to hack into state computer networks.
"We should be luring them into the Guard," McCaskill said of active-duty service members who get cyber-security experience and leave the military. "So they can go out and make a lot more money in the private sector, but continue to contribute to the national security."
Missouri Army National Guard Lt. Col. Arthur Roark said the cyber team has about 20 people serving in it. He said recruitment will begin in September to nearly double that number.