Marine Commandant: You Can Have Purple Hair in Our New Cyber Force

Purple spiked hair. (Creative Commons/orchdork1008)
Purple spiked hair. (Creative Commons/orchdork1008)

The Marine Corps is creating a new cyber unit, the top officer said Monday, and you won't need to meet those strict Devil Dog hair regulations to join.

The service will stand up a new cyber auxiliary, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said at the Future Security Forum 2019 in Washington.

"If anybody wants to join, you can sign up. You can have purple hair, too, but no EGA,” he said, referring to the Marines’ famous eagle, globe and anchor insignia.

Since Neller said the members of the Marine Corps' new Cyber Auxiliary division won't earn the coveted symbol new Marines get after completing boot camp or earning their commission, this program is likely to be strictly for civilians or veterans.

The military services have struggled to retain cyber uniformed personnel. Young enlisted troops are often attracted to lucrative six-figure salaries they can earn in the private sector.

Now, civilians could help fill the gap. It's an idea that experts with the New America think tank, which hosted Monday's event, have pushed.

"Today, we face the modern version of hidden attackers, who seek to undermine our security and economy; now they just use malware instead of torpedoes," Natasha Cohen and Peter W. Singer wrote in a Defense One op-ed last year. "And so too are the U.S. active and reserve military and government resources stretched too thin to meet the need."

The answer, they argued, is a civilian cybersecurity corps.

"It would create a place to recruit and identify youth into a field with a major looming talent crunch," they wrote.

Military leaders have looked for new ways to attract cyber experts. The Army has a direct accession program in cyber warfare, and the Marine Corps and other services have consistently offered cyber warriors steep bonuses to re-enlist.

The Pentagon is facing more sophisticated cyber threats from potential adversaries such as Russia and China. Having a reliable, resistant and recoverable network is the No. 1 issue for the Defense Department, Neller said.

"It's not going to be there 100 percent like it has been there the last 17 years because there has been nobody to contest it," he said. "There will be in the future."

Marines must be able to operate without high-tech equipment and gear to fire weapons or find their way around a new location because hitting your enemy's network is likely to be a first line of attack in future warfare.

"To me, that's going to be the first salvo of whatever competition there is," Neller said. "... [But] that fight is going on every day, every second right now."

And hopefully, he added, "we've done the same thing to the other guy."

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

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