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NEWS | Jan. 4, 2022

Maryland Air Guard counters real-world cyber adversaries

By Sgt. Sarah M. McClanahan, Maryland National Guard Public Affairs Office

BALTIMORE – The Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Cyber Operations Group supported a task force under U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force at Fort Meade, Maryland, from February to August. 

More than 15 MDANG cyber professionals worked alongside Air National Guard members from other states and active-duty counterparts during the task force’s first offensive cyber effect operation against real-life cyber threats.

“USCYBERCOM’s CNMF plans, directs and synchronizes full-spectrum cyberspace operations to deter, disrupt and, if necessary, defeat adversary cyber actors to defend the U.S.,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Corley Bradford, director of operations for 175th Cyberspace Operations Squadron, 175th Wing.

Cyber professionals with the MDANG and the Delaware Air National Guard formed a National Mission Team (NMT).

“[Our] NMT was a direct contributor to [our task force] conducting a successful offensive cyber effects operations,” said Bradford, who emphasized the real-world impact of the operation on the security of Department of Defense information networks. “Additionally, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visited to witness the operation. It was a massive milestone for [our task force], so he wanted front row seats to see the action firsthand.”

Bradford said the team worked with the U.S. Navy’s Cyber Strike Activity Sixty-Three, the Delaware Air National Guard’s 166th Cyber Operations Squadron, the U.S. Air Force’s 341st Cyber Operations Squadron, and other Air Force Reserve personnel.

“One of the benefits of operating in a joint environment is the sharing of different perspectives and the diverse backgrounds members bring to the fight, which ultimately helps drive cyber operations,” Bradford said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, formal military training was suspended, limiting the NMT’s ability to meet readiness requirements. 

However, because many Guard members work for defense contractors and top-tier cybersecurity firms in their civilian jobs, they were able to leverage that experience in some cases when cyber training was unavailable, Bradford said.

“By coordinating with multiple agencies and leveraging team members with diverse backgrounds, [we were] able to overcome every task,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jorge Urbina, a cyber warfare planner for the 175th COS, 175th Wing.

The mobilization strengthened skills and mission readiness, Bradford said.

“It was a lot of excitement to finally see the fruits of our labor when [our task force] delivered its first offensive cyber effects operations during this mobilization,” said Bradford. “It took many years of blood, sweat, and tears to get to this point. So it was an exciting time to finally counter the adversary in cyberspace and have [the secretary of defense] present while we achieved this huge milestone.”