PERKASIE, Pa. – Members of the 112th Cyberspace Operations Squadron at Horsham Air Guard Station participated in "Amber Mist," a week-long virtual cyber defense exercise to improve skills for defending vital IT infrastructure.
The annual joint training exercise is usually held in Lithuania but, due to COVID-19, was conducted remotely for the first time.
"Lithuania is the state partner for Pennsylvania," said Capt. Dakota Kauffman, the chief of training at the 112th COS. "There's a European counterpart for most of the Guard units in the United States."
These partnerships are part of the State Partnership Program (SPP), which connects a state's National Guard with the armed forces of an associated country to build jointly valuable relationships.
"Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres," according to the official National Guard website.
In addition to being the first remote exercise, this was also the first time the Air National Guard participated alone and not with the Army National Guard.
"Our counterparts from the Army National Guard had another commitment they had to do so, unfortunately, they had to pull out of this year's Amber Mist exercise," said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Weaver, the Lithuanian ambassador at the 112th COS. "In the past, it was always a joint team from Pennsylvania that would travel to Lithuania."
Although being on location is ideal, the 112th COS used online business communication platforms to conduct the exercise successfully and receive valuable training along with Lithuania and other participating countries.
"We effectively have done everything remotely right now that we would have done over there," said Weaver.
The only difficult part has been communicating through online platforms because Lithuanians are very social and prefer to collaborate in person.
"They have a lot of hospitality," said Kauffman. "They're very spirited, there's a lot of comradery, and they normally like to go out after the duty day."
Despite the lack of togetherness with their counterparts and minor technological hurdles, the 112th COS successfully performed its annual training and gained pertinent knowledge as a team.
"The team is doing great," said Lt. Col. Thomas Love, the commander of the 112th COS. "They had some initial challenges with the remote logging in and also COVID, but the team has done a great job overcoming that. They're getting in there and looking for advanced persistent threats in the network and doing a great job working with the Lithuanians."