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Army Launches Pilot to Direct Commission Cyber Lieutenants

The Cyber Operations Center on Fort Gordon, Ga., is home to signal and military intelligence non-commissioned officers, who watch for and respond to network attacks. (Photo: U.S. Army/Michael L. Lewis)
The Cyber Operations Center on Fort Gordon, Ga., is home to signal and military intelligence non-commissioned officers, who watch for and respond to network attacks. (Photo: U.S. Army/Michael L. Lewis)

The U.S. Army recently launched a new direct-commissioning pilot program aimed at attracting talent from academia and industry to become officers in its cyber mission force.

The service launched the Army Cyber Direct Commission Pilot in late October to "go after some of the most technical and adept talent out there that would like to serve our nation," said Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commanding general of U.S. Army Cyber Command.

The Army has identified 14 specialty areas that are currently capability gaps in its cyber operations, ranging from computer scientist/software engineers to field operations specialists, Nakasone told a group of defense reporters Tuesday, describing how the service has been building its cyber force for the past four years.

"We have been operating that force against our adversaries today, defending our networks, and I would say that we have a pretty good view for the shortcomings and gaps that we have," he said.

Candidates accepted into the pilot program can come into the Army as a first lieutenant, once training is completed.

"The most critical incentive that I think will be the most attractive to this group of people is that every single day you are going to go toe-to-toe with the best hackers in the world, defending our nation," Nakasone said. "If you want that opportunity, come and join us in the Army."

But the service isn't taking just anyone into the program. Candidates must be U.S. citizens under 41 years of age and have at least a four-year college degree. They also must be able to obtain and maintain a top secret security clearance

Candidates must complete an Army physical exam and meet basic fitness standards for Army service.

Only about 29 percent of Americans meet the requirements to serve in the Army, according to Maj. Gen. Patricia Frost, director of Cyber in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7.

"Within that 29 percent, we are looking at a very discrete population that brings technical expertise to the table," Frost said. "We want to look for the right individuals who are ready and willing to defend our nation in cyberspace."

After an initial application screening, candidates may be invited to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for an in-person interview.

"Being able to sit face-to-face with a candidate and have them be able to articulate the skills that they bring ... looking at the work experience that they have or maybe it has been in academic research or maybe it has been in development," Frost said. "I think that is a really a different approach than the typical, conventional accessions."

Applicants who are selected by the board to be directly commissioned will be initially commissioned into the Reserves as a second lieutenant. After completing a four-week direct commission course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, they will enter active duty as a first lieutenant.

From there, candidates will attend a 12-week Cyber Officer Basic Leadership Course at Fort Gordon.

The five-year pilot program is designed to bring in up to five cyber officers per year starting with the active component and then into the National Guard and Reserve after a year, Army officials said.

In addition to academic and real-world experience, the service is looking for candidates with experience being part of a team, Nakasone said.

"We have 41 teams within our cyber mission force, and so being part of that team is really important for us because we operate in teams. Whether it's offensive or defensive or support, you are going to be part of one of those teams," he said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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