Air Force Warrant Officers Might Solve Cyber Retention: Enlisted CYBERCOM Leader

The Cyber Squadron Initiative is a pathfinder for innovation within the Air Force cyber domain that combines Airmen from different Air Force specialty codes to enhance cyber surety on Air Force installations. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Solomon Cook)
The Cyber Squadron Initiative is a pathfinder for innovation within the Air Force cyber domain that combines Airmen from different Air Force specialty codes to enhance cyber surety on Air Force installations. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Solomon Cook)

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker’s current job position.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- As the military fights to keep cyber warriors from ditching their uniforms for high-paying private-sector gigs, allowing enlisted airmen to become warrant officers could be a boost for that community, U.S. Cyber Command's top enlisted leader said Monday.

Too many cyber experts are leaving the military, and manpower officials need to get creative about getting them to stay, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker said at the annual Air Force Association Conference. Stalker was previously the first Marine to serve as the Defense Intelligence Agency's command senior enlisted leader.

"We have got to fix the attrition, the retention," he said. "If you look at this from a business perspective, hundreds of thousands of dollars and years you put into these individuals. And what happens? They go on to become members of corporate America."

For the Air Force, the only service that doesn't currently have warrant officers -- technical experts who advise and lead others in their field -- creating that opportunity could prove beneficial, he said. There's no shortage of talented enlisted cyber airmen, he said, but giving them the chance to go warrant could entice them to stay, to the benefit of U.S. Cyber Command.

"There is a need for technical expertise," he said. "... This may be in the lane of retention, and that's certainly not in my lane. But it may be something that we can look at and study if we keep losing talent."

The idea of bringing back the warrant officer ranks in the Air Force isn't a new one. Congress asked service leaders to examine whether it could help address the pilot shortage, and the service teamed with Rand Corp. to study the issue.

Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, commander of the Air Force Personnel Center, said warrant officers probably won't answer the service's pilot retention problem, but the idea could work long term for other technical fields.

For now, though, it's unlikely that Air Force warrants will be making a comeback.

"Right now, we believe we have excellent, excellent technical capability in our enlisted force and we have opportunities to do technical things in our officer force. And we don't think we need warrant officers," Kelly said during a Monday panel at the AFA conference. "And that's what we're going to go back and tell Congress."

Cyber troops are on the front lines daily, going up against countries such as Russia, North Korea and China, Stalker said. There's a serious need for the services to hang onto the best and brightest in the cyber field, he added.

The Navy and Marine Corps recently created cyber warrant officer billets. One 35-year-old Marine warrant officer with 17 years of experience told The Associated Press in June that he applied for one of the positions in the Marine Corps' new realm of operations.

"This is going to change the Marine Corps and the way it fights," he said.

Stalker said that, if successful, the sea services' cyber warrant officer programs could serve as a model for the Air Force in the future.

"Maybe you just wait a couple years, see how it goes and take the good, delete the bad and see what works for you," he said.

-- Military.com's Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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