NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A team predominately comprising members of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Cyberspace Operations Group captured first place during a recent skills validation exercise hosted by the Tennessee Air National Guard.
The team, which also included members of the Texas Air National Guard, outscored other teams during the competition, which was hosted by Tennessee’s 218th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group.
Maryland Air National Guard Master Sgt. Benny Casalina, a career network intelligence analyst assigned to the group’s 135th Intelligence Squadron, said the cyber exercise enabled him to help his coworkers prepare for future missions and exercises.
“I really enjoyed participating in this exercise because I was able to see how it was put together, what’s involved in putting it together, and then seeing what would be needed for a drill status Guardsman to participate and be successful,” said Casalina. “Now I can bring that information back and pass it on so less experienced Airmen know that this is what you need to know and do to be successful for this type of exercise.”
Casalina won “Best Report” for the exercise. His teammates, Maryland Air National Guard Master Sgt. Andrew Knott and Tech Sgt. Edgard Guerra, won for “Best Network Map” and “Most Valuable Player,” respectively.
The team leader said Casalina was an invaluable part of the six-person team.
“He guided us through our reporting requirements for the entire exercise, producing three serialized reports that received numerous accolades from the exercise coordinators,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Jasmine Mossbarger, flight commander assigned to the 23rd Intelligence Squadron’s B Flight. “We were ultimately recognized for having the best reporting for the entire exercise. He’s exactly the kind of senior noncommissioned officer we need overseeing our missions and Airmen.”
Casalina’s desire to work in intelligence began shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when he recalls hearing on the news, “according to intelligence reports.” After graduating from the University of West Florida, he tried to work in intelligence but found it difficult to break into the field.
“I didn’t have any real intelligence experience and I was having trouble starting a civilian career, so I looked into joining the Air Force as the best route to get that experience,” said Casalina. “I decided to take the enlisted route because, as an officer, they couldn’t guarantee me an intelligence position, and all I wanted to do was work in intelligence.”
After enlisting in 2005 as a fusion intelligence analyst and completing technical school in 2006 at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Casalina relocated to his first duty station at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia.
Casalina began to truly understand the importance of the job he signed up to perform during a deployment to Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, in 2010, where he worked in the Combined Air Operations Center.
“I learned how air operations from an Air Force perspective actually works and I gained a lot of experience and learned a lot about the different networks, tools and databases we use to perform our job,” he said. “A lot of what we did was threat indications, so if we were carrying out an air operation to a certain location, we tried to find out if there were any known threats that could harm personnel or aircraft in the area.”
He also learned how combatant commanders use intelligence to carry out missions.
After returning to Fort Gordon, he transitioned in 2011 to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. In 2012, he deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
“We were working with the task force guys on the ground in Afghanistan, providing them intel when they were performing their missions,” Casalina said. “That deployment is one of my proudest moments during my service in the Air Force because I was helping to provide them with information that was going to help bring them safely back to the base.”
Casalina served on active duty until 2014, when he switched to part-time military service.
“I took advantage of the Palace Chase program and transferred to the Georgia Air National Guard,” he said. “I was on active duty one day, and the next day I was serving in the Air National Guard.”
While serving in the Georgia Air National Guard, Casalina worked as a civilian in the national security sector in Maryland. He was traveling back and forth monthly to Georgia to fulfill his Air National Guard service requirements, so he found a Guard position closer with the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group.
Knowing the caliber of recruits enlisting in the Maryland Air National Guard, his role is to ensure they can fully use their skills for mission success.
“The 135th Intelligence Squadron is a world-class organization filled with extremely intelligent people, whether we are pulling from the contractor world or straight off the streets,” said Casalina. “We have a lot of great experience and people from the top down. Our commanders are always pushing training and giving us opportunities to perform temporary duty for training and to participate in exercises that help us enhance our skills.”