By Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb
24th Air Force Public Affairs
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Just walking into the Junior Reserve
Officer Training Corps building at John Jay High School, a stone's throw
from Lackland, is a testament to the unit's dedication to being the
The hall of trophies more closely resembles a sheer wall of trophies of
all sizes and shapes and reasons for being and on a Saturday, when so
many other kids are hanging out, the dedicated cadets are at school,
While drill team members and instructors filter in and out of the
activity room, in search of snacks and a much needed break from drill
practice, a select few cadets sit, mostly quietly, clicking away at
their computers. The cadets on laptops aren't inside to avoid the
intensity of drill, they too, are competing.
This teenage posse of network security troubleshooters are duking it out
with hackers on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. They're running
antivirus software, making friends and learning how to operate in
cyberspace during the third round of the Air Force Association (AFA)'s
high school cyber defense competition - CyberPatriot.
"It's like solving a Rubix Cube," said David Peterson, a 10th grader
looking up from the Linux system in front of him for the first time all
day. "First you have to figure out what you're looking at, and then you
have to solve it."
The AFA decided in 2007 to do what they could to help JROTC and Civil
Air Patrol cadets and other children get back into science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects and CyberPatriot, the
world's largest high school-level cyber competition, was the way they
chose to challenge the high schoolers, said Col. Craig Berg, 24th Air
Force standardization and evaluation director, who volunteers as a coach
and mentor along with Tech. Sgt. Sung Kim, 624th Operations Center
offensive operations controller, and Senior Airman Patrick Stevens, a
network defense tactics development technician with the 23rd Information
Operations Squadron, both stationed on Lackland.
Dr. Gregory White, Director for the Center for Infrastructure Assurance
and Security at University of Texas-San Antonio explained that while AFA
serves as the lead for CyberPatriot, UTSA and SAIC, Inc., a scientific,
engineering, and technology applications company, provide the
educational tools for the program. While UTSA provides schools with most
of the academic information and solely runs the collegiate competition,
SAIC provides the hardware and software to make the competition
possible. The Air Force is the fourth contributor to CyberPatriot with
manpower through volunteers like the ones from 24th Air Force.
Colonel Berg said the mentors are not allowed to help the cadets find
the answer, but oversee the competition and keep them focused.
"We're walking a fine line as mentors, advising them, but not pointing
things out to them," he said. "We observe and remind them to remember
their checklists. That keeps it fair."
This year, approximately 500 teams competed in CyberPatriot and the John
Jay team is experiencing what it's like to go up against the lot in
hopes for a trophy of their own. With that said, the cyber teens are
grounded in the true benefits of a competition this big.
"I don't even think winning is the most important thing for me. Getting
experience in it is most important - winning comes second," said team
leader Wesley Eaton. "Getting a chance to use this platform is important
because it's something I want to do for my job - although I do want to
go to Orlando."
The junior said he's learned that it takes a team to succeed and have a
chance at the finals in Orlando, Fla.
"Successfully competing isn't just knowledge," said Cadet Eaton. "You
have to work together to use your resources and accomplish what you're
trying to do."
Sergeant Kim said he was impressed with how much the students already
knew going into their mentoring sessions.
"Working with the students has taught me that students today are very
much connected and in-tune with computers and the Internet," he said.
"It was great to see just how much they already understand about
computers and the need for computer defense."
Colonel Berg, who lives separately from his family due to his military
requirements, said working with the students has been a way for him to
give back to children around his son's age.
Approximately 15 local JROTC units in the San Antonio area are vying for
the Mayor's Cup. The team who scored the highest in the first two rounds
will be awarded the cup during a banquet Dec. 11. The numbers are in and
the waiting game has begun. Until then, these cyber warriors stand
against all the other teams with tools of the trade - like locking their
parents out of their computers just for fun.
"I've actually learned more about network security than I thought I
could," said Cadet Peterson. "I've actually been able to lock down my
computer at home. It was a bad thing. I locked my mom out."
He unlocked it as soon as she asked him to. He's part of a team that
shoots to be the best.
"I like feeling that we're unique," said Cadet Eaton. "We're the only
group in our school that's doing this. We're the pioneering group who
will decide where this thing goes for its life. "
With the solid foundation being built, it's only a matter of time until
it goes right out in the JROTC unit's hall - next to all the other
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