ZAGREB, Croatia – Soldiers and Airmen from the Minnesota and Iowa National Guard conducted the Midwest Croatia Kosovo Exercise Adriatic Thunder with the Kosovo Security Forces and Croatian Armed Forces in Zagreb June 5-19.
“We’re partnering, showing our ability to work with one another, work across nations, work across joint environments. We’re doing it in an actual hands-on fashion where you see ones and zeroes in the defensive critical mission systems,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lawrence Yazzie, commander of the 168th Cyber Operations Squadron, Iowa Air National Guard.
Soldiers and Airmen from the 177th Cyber Protection Team and the Minnesota National Guard Joint Force Headquarters Defensive Cyber Operations Element participated in the exercise. Minnesota is partnered with Croatia through the National Guard State Partnership Program.
This is the third SPP event U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Ryan Borre has participated in with Croatia. Borre is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the DCOE. After spending 16 years in air transportation, he answered a call for Airmen with cyber skills and cross-trained into cyber operations. He also works as a reverse engineer for Target Corporation.
“Cyber is the way of the future,” Borre said. “Right now, I don’t think it’s as well known in studies as it should be. Even in school, they’re just starting to create these cyber courses, but there’s no formal training that prepares you because things change much faster in this environment. So, for me, between military and civilian, I spend a lot of time training and researching and learning about new technologies and new capabilities. It’s just a never-ending job.”
The 177th CPT and DCOE work in cyber-related career fields in their civilian careers or in the Minnesota National Guard as full-time service members. The cyber career field requires ongoing education and is continuously evolving.
In this multinational exercise two teams are pitted against each other - a red team on the offensive and a blue team on the defensive, said Croatian Armed Forces, Maj. Dajan Petek, commander of the cybersecurity operation and response unit in the Croatian Cyber Command.
“This event comes on a really special anniversary for us,” said Petek. “This year, we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Croatian Armed Forces.” The Croatian War of Independence, or Homeland War, began in 1991.
This is also the 25th anniversary of the Minnesota National Guard’s state partnership with Croatia. The partnership with cyber defense events started in 2012.
“The partnerships make everybody better,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dan Cunningham, networking officer with Minnesota National Guard Joint Force Headquarters. “We learn from the Croatians as much as they learn from us. The friendships that you can make in these programs are pretty incredible.”
These exercises enable each nation to learn what the other goes through, the challenges they face, what they excel at, and then further build off of each other, Cunningham said.
State partnerships facilitate learning, cooperation, and cultural exchanges that benefit the U.S. Armed Forces and their partner countries. The exercises across career fields from armor to cyber strengthen service members in their expertise. The partnerships are more than a cultural trip abroad, and they are mission essential.