Scott Air Force Base Marks Centennial This Weekend

The 932nd Airlift Wing is known as the "Gateway Wing" because Scott Air Force Base is less than 30 minutes from Saint Louis. The wing flies the C-9C aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The 932nd Airlift Wing is known as the "Gateway Wing" because Scott Air Force Base is less than 30 minutes from Saint Louis. The wing flies the C-9C aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Over the last century, Scott Air Force Base has come a long way from training pilots to fly Curtiss Jennies in World War I and housing the military's dirigibles.

The nation's third-oldest continuously operating Air Force flying field celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend with air shows and an open house.

While the base just east of Shiloh still houses aircraft, its function has evolved over the decades to a focus on logistics, communications and cybersecurity.

Today, the base employs about 12,500 people, making it the seventh-largest employer in the metro area, according to the St. Louis Regional Chamber. Hundreds more work nearby as contractors for the military.

The military's U.S. Transportation Command is based there -- it's the central hub that directs troop and supply movement for the military across the world.

"That kind of logistics is pretty immense, and we're lucky to have that supply chain logistics talent here," said Ronda Sauget, executive director of the Leadership Council of Southwest Illinois.

With all that information running through Scott, it has ramped up its focus in recent years on cybersecurity. Three years ago, two additional cybersecurity squadrons with some 300 jobs were moved to the base, which already housed three cyber units. The Defense Information Systems Agency, which operates and defends the Defense Department's information networks, completed its $100 million Global Operations Command on the base last year.

"Every mission set now is pushing data," said Col. Terrence Adams, commander of the 375th Communications Group at Scott.

Except for the portraits of the military commanders, the hallway leading to a workspace of software programmers and application developers looks much like any other office corridor. Old military posters tell some of the history of Scott's focus on communications and information technology, from its role in training radio operators in World War II to warnings about hackers in the early days of computers.

Young Air Force programmers often make their way through Scott, where they have worked on programs as important as the loading of C-130 military transport planes to less critical applications that aggregate events for residents of military bases across the country.

But Adams emphasizes that one doesn't need to be enlisted to find a job in IT or cybersecurity at Scott.

"We have this huge need for cyber jobs," he said.

Like Express Scripts, Edward Jones and other area companies that deal with sensitive data, the military installation needs lots of skilled cybersecurity workers. It helps boost the ranks of those employees in the region, and the need for cybersecurity is not going away, Sauget said.

"The more workforce capabilities and expertise we have in our region, the more companies are going to want to come here," she said.

That's why the base in recent years has worked to build more connections with area colleges and universities, explaining their program needs to administrators and letting students know about the job opportunities available at Scott.

It's also working with the nonprofit Midwest Cyber Center, which officially launched just over a year ago and promotes cybersecurity workforce development. In addition to its main office next to Scott Air Force Base, it also has an office in the T-Rex startup incubator downtown.

Midwest Cyber Center Executive Director Tony Bryan said cybersecurity professionals in the military often end up bringing their skills to the private sector.

One of Midwest Cyber Center's initial programs offers scholarships for a special cybersecurity certification that allows work on defense contracts, which Bryan said was "deliberate" in order to help the defense contractors that helped the group get started source talent.

The Midwest Cyber Center recently announced an apprenticeship program with the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment that is aimed at helping train cybersecurity workers for the military and other employers. Within five weeks they've had 300 people apply for program, Bryan said.

Bryan also works to let military personnel at Scott know of the opportunities throughout the St. Louis region in order to retain them.

"There's a ton of talent at this moment in a uniform at Scott Air Force Base that is either going to retire or get out as cybersecurity professionals," he said.

Between Scott, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency based in St. Louis and the cluster of financial service and medical companies in the region, Bryan said St. Louis could soon be "recognized as a hub for cybersecurity."

More recognition as a hotbed for cybersecurity workforce may help secure Scott's long-term future.

The base had a bit of a scare 20 years ago as the federal government looked to cut bases and eliminate redundancy after the Cold War wound down. Early in the 2000s, there was some worry again, but Scott was spared while 2,700 other military jobs in the region were cut or moved.

Just because Scott has become the central point for transportation logistics and has grown its cybersecurity footprint, the region can't sit back and assume its functions will always remain here, Sauget said. The military commission that decides on closures doesn't take into account the importance of a military base to a region's economy.

"We always have to be vigilant in supporting our base," she said. "There are many other states out there that would love to have the assets we have."

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