CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah - The National Guard completed its annual cyber defense training exercise July 23, with more than 750 top cyber defense professionals from Soldiers and Airmen to industry partners participating from all over the United States.
Cyber Shield 21 was a concentrated, two-week effort to develop, train and exercise cyber forces in computer network internal defensive measures and cyber incident response. It is the Department of Defense's largest unclassified cyber defense exercise.
Core personnel operated in-person at Camp Williams, with most participants attending virtually from all over the United States.
"Cyber incidents are an ongoing and substantial threat in 2021; America's power plants, food supply, water supply, health care, law enforcement and defense sectors have all come under attack," said Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, during a media roundtable June 29. "These cyber threats extend our adversaries' reach across borders and time zones, and it could have devastating consequences."
Among those joining the Cyber Shield exercise were National Guard units from Washington state, Oklahoma, Colorado and a joint New York-New Jersey team.
Nineteen cyber experts from the Washington National Guard participated.
"Our goal was to leverage all of our training, experience and partnerships with private and public sector experts to test our capabilities and make our team stronger," said Maj. Sameer Puri, Cyber Team chief and director of Information Management for the Washington Army National Guard.
"The partnerships are critical to what we are doing here in Washington," Puri said. "We can train and exercise all we want, but we have to develop and maintain the relationships."
Soldiers with the Oklahoma National Guard defensive cyber operations element (DCOE), in partnership with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Management Enterprise Services, participated in the exercise from the Norman Armed Forces Reserve Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
"Success for the Oklahoma National Guard would be to operate and maintain a DCOE that can rapidly respond to cyber threats," said Capt. Danny Slusarchuck, DCOE chief. He said the team worked on forensic analysis, "creating relationships and interagency lines of communication that we did not otherwise have."
Experts from the Colorado National Guard Defensive Cyber Operations Element and Cyber Protection Team also participated in Cyber Shield in person in Utah.
"This year, Cyber Shield has offered my team another opportunity to collaborate with other experts across the cyber field and refine their skills for the next time they are needed," said 1st Lt. Miles, deputy team chief.
Cyber Protection Team 173 was also a part of Cyber Shield this year, operating out of Camp Williams in Utah and virtually from the New Jersey National Guard's training facility in Sea Girt, New Jersey.
"Anything in our supply chain, from fuel transport, the manufacturing of munitions, or even a power plant, can be a target of cyber warfare, and Cyber Shield is how we train to respond to these situations," said Master Sgt. Jody Doherty, the noncommissioned officer in charge of CPT 173, the joint New York-New Jersey unit.
At the unit level, Cyber Shield gave CPT 173 a chance to train in a more focused capacity and execute tasks that would not be possible during a regular drill weekend.
"This is a special opportunity for us, being able to work side by side and see each other's faces," said Spc. Miles Gaitan, a cyber operations specialist assigned to CPT 173. "Our team is a wealth of knowledge, and we all share our skills and assets to get the job done."
With technology rapidly advancing and integrated into every aspect of military operations, Cyber Shield has become more important than ever to the readiness of cyber Soldiers, Doherty said.
"You never know when an attack is going to happen, you just know that you need to be ready," said Sgt. David Kablan, an information technology specialist assigned to CPT 173. "I think of it almost like a basketball game where we are always on defense, and the offense is targeting whatever weak points they can find.
"We know they are going to try to score, but our goal is to have an answer for any and every shot they take," Kablan said.
Staff Sgt. Jordan Hack, Sgt. 1st Class Mireille Merilice, Spc. Michael Kerr, Joseph Siemandel and Colorado National Guard Public Affairs contributed to this story.