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NEWS | June 17, 2022

Hawaii Air Guard Cyber Team Honored for Cyber Defense Work

By Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier, 154th Wing Public Affairs - Hawaii Air National Guard

HONOLULU – Three Hawaii National Guard Airmen received achievement medals at Fort DeRussy May 14 for enhancing the Guard’s cyber-response capabilities.

The team of cyber analysts and operators was handpicked to start one of the nation’s first Cyber Mission Assurance Teams. This specialized force supports critical infrastructure networks in the community.

Hawaii was one of three states to take on the national initiative through a National Guard Bureau pilot program started in October 2018. The Washington and Ohio National Guard also participated.

“The Hawaii National Guard has been well-known to be able to respond to any national disaster that comes our way,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Elijah Lincoln, Cyber Mission Assurance Team commander. ”We do it for the Big Island lava flows, we do it for the hurricanes and we do it for COVID. But on the cyber side, that’s where we needed to ask ourselves, ‘What do we need to do if someone were to come out of nowhere and shut down critical infrastructure?’ You need to have a response, and that’s why we built that response team over those years.”

The 10-person CMAT, made up of HIANG Airmen from the 298th Support Squadron and 201st Combat Operations Squadron and Soldiers from the Hawaii Army National Guard, volunteered for this joint initiative under the operational control of the Hawaii National Guard’s Joint Staff. The multi-service environment served as a collaborative hub where members could use their unique cyber skill sets and determine new ways to merge their capabilities with other government and civil networks.

On the surface, the CMAT workspace looks reminiscent of a group of hackers in a Hollywood flick. But ironically, their main objective is to deny hackers any opportunity to cause digital harm.

While networking systems have become widely used in the digital age, schools, hospitals, police departments and private services are exposed to cyber threats. An unexpected network breach can lead to a shutdown of operations or exploit sensitive data.

As a preventative force, Lincoln’s team spent its time in the CMAT surveying local network systems and becoming familiar with key personnel, policies, and equipment of external agencies. His team members, Staff Sgts. Marc Masuno and Isaac McMillan, were among the first Guardsmen to develop standard operating procedures members could immediately use as a reference and apply the necessary skills to prevent or alleviate cyberattacks. Lincoln, Masuno and McMillan were the achievement medal recipients.

“When this all started out, we were fortunate enough to have a baseline of expertise between the Air and Army staff,” said Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi Jr., Hawaii Army National Guard commander. “But at the same time, we had limited knowledge of exactly what we can and cannot do and how we can most effectively communicate with other agencies. This was a lot to ask for from Capt. Lincoln and his team, but they did a remarkable job at navigating through this uncharted territory and laid down the foundation we needed to help protect our critical infrastructures.”

The CMAT team made groundbreaking progress laying down networking capabilities with external agencies, starting with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Later, they provided survey services for the Department of Transportation, including local airports and harbors.

They shared some skills and practices they developed with the Hawaii National Guard’s international allies through the State Partnership Program. During an exchange with the Indonesian Armed Forces in Jakarta, the joint staff demonstrated some of the CMAT’s network security advancements to enhance bilateral capabilities.

While the national CMAT pilot program officially wrapped up in March 2020, Kaoiwi said the program’s developments are far too valuable to let go.

Airmen and Soldiers have been participating in organic cyber training to maintain and grow their networking competencies, including an exercise scheduled in June with the Arizona, California and Nevada National Guard.