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Cyber Reservist squeezes out confidence during JUICE

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lori Fiorello
  • 960th Cyberspace Operations Group
In a deployed environment, cyber systems operators have a two-fold mission. That is, to establish and maintain secure communications systems for all personnel and conduct reconnaissance against vulnerabilities that could benefit potential adversaries.
Cyber reservists from the 42nd Combat Communications Squadron tested these competencies during the Joint Users Interoperability Communications Exercise June 2 to June 27 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

For one Citizen Airman, the exercise instilled confidence in his abilities for using his critical thinking and investigative skills.

"This was a great learning experience for me," said Senior Airman Sheldon Spence, 42nd CBCS cyber operations systems technician. "[My] leadership forced me to think outside of the [instructional] book."

JUICE is a unique exercise and annual capstone event emanating from support provided to the warfighter, technical, operational and acquisition communities. This year, the exercise focused on increasing cyber defense capabilities for a deployed joint task force, expanding Defense Department support to civil authorities and promoting coalition interoperability by synchronizing divergent technologies between different nations.

Spence said he was excited when he arrived on site and nothing worked, because then he had no choice but to learn fast, problem solve and apply it all instantly.

"I went from having zero confidence to doing things on my own automatically," he said. "It was confidence building and motivating ... now I know I can do this job [on deployment]."

Spence's primary roles during the exercise involved providing classified and unclassified computer network services for the joint staff of over 40 personnel. He configured and maintained virtual servers, provided email, internet and Local Area Network connectivity so they could communicate internally and with the rest of the world.

"I saw huge growth in a very short time ... watched him transform into to a very confident and skilled technician," said Master Sgt. Donovan Cameron, 42nd CBCS telecommunications specialist and unit deployment manager. "He stepped up and assumed the lead when the new rotation arrived half-way through the exercise. Having customers provided valuable and realistic training which helped him build his confidence."

Cameron said Spence became the "go-to guy" after the NCO in charge left.

He followed specific protocol to tackle his technical tasks, but he learned to think operationally and outside of his comfort zone.

"With cyber, you really can't just know your job," said Spence. "I had to dive deep to think about a problem. Luckily, I was on a team with a lot of experienced people who knew how to troubleshoot issues ... I went from novice to experienced really quickly."

Spence might be considered a rookie, having been with the Reserve unit for only two years, but he's far from untrained and inexperienced when it comes to security. The nine-year, New York Police Department police officer talks about the similarities between his civilian job and the Air Force Reserve.

"I deal with physical security [as a NYPD police officer] and here we secure our cyber systems and deny the adversary access to it," Spence said.

The law enforcement officer also compares troubleshooting to investigations and stresses the importance of proper identification when accessing secure information or secure areas.

"I need to see your credentials no matter what rank you are, or who you know," he added. "Same thing [as a police officer], citizens will say, 'I know this guy or that guy,' and I respectfully tell them that I still need to see [their] credentials."

Proving yet again how important security is in this day and age, it's a duty Spence doesn't take lightly. The skills he's gained through JUICE will continue to improve and the framework for success he's built has become a good example for others to follow.

JUICE is conducted annually to meet training requirements for cyber reservists who operate in multi-faceted and joint mission areas of responsibility. Participants also include sister service members, FBI, Federal Emergency Management Agency, national coalition partners and others.