BALTIMORE, Md. – Just a few miles beyond the bustling cyber hub surrounding Fort Meade, Maryland, is the Laurel Readiness Center, home to the Maryland National Guard’s 169th Cyber Protection Team – the only full-time, fully operational cyber protection team in the Army National Guard.
These cyber professionals defend Defense Department information networks and assist in cyber defense outside the DOD.
Tracing their origins back to 2013, the 169th CPT has grown from a few cyber professionals to a full-time National Guard cyber protection team activated as a unit in 2017.
“[The CPT] was a notional idea during that time,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Carlos Salas, 169th CPT cyber planner. “We were a team of people put together on temporary orders. They called us a CPT, but we didn’t have funding or anything. We just belonged to the National Guard Bureau. That was it.”
With a trained team of 38 members in an Active Guard Reserve full-time paid status, the 169th CPT can provide incident response, vulnerability assessments, network and host-based analysis, threat emulation, and more. With a recall time of only four hours, the 169th CPT can respond and assist quickly and effectively.
“Our capabilities are to deploy at a moment’s notice to conduct a [cyber threat] hunt, clear, and defend mission or to do a cyber readiness inspection,” explains Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keith Roberson, 169th CPT deputy discovery encounter infiltration lead. “A couple of our cyber support and readiness squads are already providing support to the [G6-signal operations] and their mission.”
When they are not assisting on missions, the members of the 169th CPT are seeking ways to further their education and credentialing. They have 134 industry certifications.
While the 169th CPT is a highly capable cyber element with extensive credentials, a major obstacle in performing those capabilities is being authorized to use them.
“We have a lot of capabilities with a team of people who have been doing this for 20-plus years,” explains Salas. “We have that level of experience. We want to use it and be the ones called up when needed.”
In the meantime, the 169th CPT maintains mission readiness. It has participated in national cyber exercises such as Cyber Shield, Cyber Flag, Cyber Yankee and others.
“Sending members to national exercises provides the opportunity for them to hone their craft,” explains Roberson. “It gives people who don’t have as much experience doing the job the chance to get a bit more hands-on.”
National exercises and continuous education allow the 169th CPT to provide fully qualified Soldiers for missions in support of the Maryland National Guard, DoD, and beyond.
“We are all very dedicated in what we do,” said Salas. “We are all itching to get out there and prove ourselves and show what we can do.”