MADISON, Wis. – Soldiers with the Wisconsin National Guard's Detachment 1, 176th Cyber Protection Team, have made tremendous strides during the unit's first federal deployment, to Fort Meade, Maryland.
The unit is conducting cyberspace operations in support of U.S. Cyber Command and Cyber National Mission Force requirements.
"We are operating in a very complex landscape that changes day to day," said 1st Lt. David Schroeder, a cyber defense manager with the detachment. "Every day, the cyber environment presents us with new challenges, and our job on the Task Force is to find solutions and overcome these challenges."
Many of the Soldiers in the approximately 20-person detachment are experts in cybersecurity or information technology in their civilian careers, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the mission. The unit consists mainly of IT professionals who focus on cybersecurity, intelligence, law enforcement and business leadership. They work at American Family Insurance, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rockwell Automation, Oshkosh Defense LLC, Northrop Grumman, the Boeing Company and elsewhere.
"This is one of the areas where the Army National Guard really shines, enabling Soldiers to bring their unique skills and expertise to bear on national priorities," Schroeder said.
He said many of the Soldiers are working with cutting-edge technologies and have completed additional courses and certifications to support this mission. They will come back to Wisconsin with highly relevant operational knowledge.
Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Gilane, a senior cyber operations noncommissioned officer with the detachment, agreed.
"The attitude of the overall team, I believe, is where it really shines," Gilane said. "Everyone in the team as a whole has always possessed a can-do attitude with a willingness to spend whatever time and effort necessary to get the mission completed."
Even while serving on a stateside mission, members of the detachment have faced challenges typical of any other mobilization.
"We are technically in the U.S., but still have some of the same restrictions of a standard mobilization," Gilane said. "So to our families back home, we appear to be more readily available to communicate, but due to operations tempo and security restrictions, we are not as available as we appear. COVID has also been a serious challenge."
The detachment initially mobilized into federal service in October amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of their mission requires Soldiers to be present, in person, in secure facilities.
"Navigating a dynamic COVID environment throughout this mobilization has been a challenge, but we continue to remain safe and ready to respond," said Maj. Jamison Clark, commander of the detachment. Members of the detachment were among the first group of service members able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021.
Despite challenges, morale within the unit remains high, and the Soldiers feel fortunate that being stateside allows for opportunities to visit with families and loved ones.
"Our mobilization has significantly increased the ability of Wisconsin cyber defenders to quickly identify, respond and restore critical infrastructure and key resources in the event of a cyberattack," Clark said.
The mobilization is the unit's first since it formed in 2017.