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Washington National Guard Participating in Major Cyber Exercise

Team Washington at Cyber Shield 2017, Camp Williams, Utah

Over the last two weeks, nine members of the Washington National Guard joined more than 800 other cyber experts at Camp Williams, Utah, for Exercise Cyber Shield 17, the National Guard’s premier cyber defense training event.

The yearly exercise, which includes members of the National Guard from 44 states, the Army Reserve, state and federal government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry, is designed to assess participants’ ability to respond to cyber incidents.

"Cyber Shield is an opportunity for our Guardsmen to work with professionals from other states," said Col. Curt Simonson, commander, 56th Theater Information Operations Group. "These cyber experts are the tip of the spear in the new front of cyber warfare."

By working closely with interagency partners and the private sector, the National Guard seeks to strengthen network cybersecurity and the capability to support local responses to cyber incidents. Cyber Shield 17 is part of the National Guard’s ongoing effort to improve Guard ability to respond to real-world cyber incidents. This is the sixth iteration of this training exercise.

Washington participants included members from Joint Force Headquarters and the 56th Theater Information Operations Group.

Washington State Guard Soldiers: LT Russ McRee and SGT Baze with 156 IO BN CDR LTC Charles Randolph. LTC Randolph, LT McRee and SGT Baze work for Microsoft.  The team brings the Industry partner expertise to Cyber Shield.

“Cyber Shield 2017 has been an amazing opportunity for our Washington guardsmen,” said Lt. Col. Charles Randolph, commander, 156th Information Operations Battalion. “This year’s exercise had particular focus around issues such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. Our cyber soldiers were able to gain exposure to and mitigate risks involving these issues, which could have severe effects to any state and the country.”

In cooperation with the U.S. Army Reserve, Cyber Shield is designed to conduct Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO), training, and assessment for Defensive Cyber Operations Elements (DCO-Es), Cybersecurity detachments or cells, and Cyber Protection Teams (CPTs).

Divided into two phases, the first week offers participants the opportunity to hone their skills through academic instruction covering everything from the legal aspects of cyber operations to the nature of cyber threats to hands-on technical training. Equally important, the soldiers and airmen are learning their roles as part of the larger cyberspace defense community.

During the second phase of Cyber Shield, exercise participants from cyber protection teams face off against trained antagonists, who simulate online adversaries. The teams try to defend their networks and mitigate the effects of attacks in a free-wheeling clash of cyberspace acumen.

“It is incredibly important that we are looking ahead, and I believe that recruiting, training and retaining highly qualified cyber experts is the first step,” said Simonson.

The National Guard’s dual state-federal character makes it uniquely positioned to help civilian agencies and critical nongovernmental entities, such as public utilities, if an incident occurs. Because of their status as a state military force when not under federal mobilization orders, Guard units are available to respond to state-level emergencies at their governor’s discretion.

“I’m extremely proud of the efforts from a combined force of both army and state guard personnel,” said Randolph. “Their skillsets, teamwork and professionalism were second to none.”