LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In the early 2000s, the Defense Department and the National Guard Bureau realized that cyber threats were on the rise and would only become more prominent in the United States and abroad. In response, the Virginia National Guard activated the 91st Cyber Brigade in 2017.
Based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the brigade is the country’s first and only Army National Guard cyber brigade. The brigade’s five cyber protection battalions each employ two cyber protection teams (CPTs).
All CPTs within the brigade have been validated against U.S. Cyber Command standards. The teams perform annual recertifications conducted by the 169th CPT, an all-Active Guard and Reserve CPT that falls directly under the 91st Cyber Brigade.
Although there are prescribed standards to conduct CPT evaluations, there are no defined standards to conduct evaluations for their higher battalion headquarters. Because of this, the 91st Cyber Brigade began evaluations of battalion staff utilizing the Battalion Commander’s Mission Essential Task List in 2022.
Army Cyber Command, along with leadership from the 91st Brigade, chose the Cyber Shield 2023 exercise to recertify the 179th CPT. Recertification is required every two years.
“The 179th must demonstrate that they are able to effectively hunt and clear malicious cyber activity from a DOD network, as well as enable hardening and further assessment of the affected environment,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 William Bayse, cyber warfare technician for the 91st Brigade.
This year, the 91st Brigade brought more than 200 Soldiers to participate in Cyber Shield. The brigade took control of the process June 2 in place of U.S. Army Col. Jeffrey Fleming and his Cyber Shield plans team.
The 124th CPB plays an important role this year in which their joint staff is taking part in the evaluation process.
“The 169th CPT will be evaluating the 179th this year here at Cyber Shield,” said U.S. Army Capt. Matthew Perham, training officer for the 91st BDE. “[The 179th] will be evaluated based on the battalion’s mission essential tasks but the battalion staff is also being evaluated on their staff actions.”
The annual event ensures that CPT teams can meet the enemy threat with the most recent and relevant knowledge of the cyber dimension. For the 91st BDE leadership, Cyber Shield is the culminating event for re-evaluating their yearly training plan for the battalions.
“Specialization is key,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keith Roberson, assigned to the 91st Brigade. “Cybersecurity is a massive field. Teams would do well to be extremely deliberate about finding required niches and ensuring that they align with the talents found within their formations.”
There are an estimated 2,200 cyberattacks every day, equating to more than 800,000 people hacked yearly, costing the nation more than $6 trillion in 2022. The 91st uses this vital information to train and deter attacks.
“We hope Cyber Shield not only helps us evaluate our different battalions,” said U.S. Army Col. Russell McGuire, 91st Cyber Brigade commander. “We hope that [Cyber Shield] better prepares us for the mission to support the defense of cyberspace operations.”
Cyber Shield 2023 began May 30 at the Professional Education Center in Little Rock. National Guard members from 36 states, 15 international state partners from five nations, and civilian agencies came together to conduct CS23.
Army Sgt. Hannah Tarkelly contributed to this story.