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Keesler ensures cyber training continues online

The 81st Training Wing’s mission of training, developing, and inspiring premier warfighters is essential for the development of the Air Force and it’s future.
However, with the threat of COVID-19 impacting the health and well-being of the students in training on Keesler, leadership has had to develop creative solutions to a unique problem. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Seth Haddix)

The 81st Training Wing’s mission of training, developing, and inspiring premier warfighters is essential for the development of the Air Force and its future. However, with the threat of COVID-19 impacting the health and well-being of the students in training on Keesler, leadership has had to develop creative solutions to a unique problem. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Seth Haddix)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

The 81st Training Wing’s mission of training, developing, and inspiring premier warfighters is essential for the development of the Air Force and its future.

However, with COVID-19 potentially impacting the health and well-being of the students in training on Keesler, 81st Training Group units are developing creative solutions to this unique problem.

As an ongoing experiment spurred by the COVID-19 crisis, the 333rd Training Squadron has implemented new online classes to safely teach the students of the cyber warfare operations career field.

The instructors connect with the students through a Discord chatroom and the Cyber Training and Evaluation Platform (CTEP).  Discord is an audio, chat, and screen-sharing application used by the video gaming community that the instructors repurposed to facilitate teaching.  CTEP is a capability created by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) which allows for the hosting of traditional educational curriculum coupled with a virtual cyber range for hands-on cyber/information technology learning exercises. 

Tech. Sgt. Kyle Griffin, 333rd Training Squadron instructor supervisor, explains the alternate and safer approach to teaching his students during this time.

“The virtual class allows us to hear our students’ voices and reduce the chances of our Airmen contracting the virus,” said Griffin. “The instructors have the tools to effectively teach our students the material. Being able to show our students our computer screens and interact with them through streaming allows us to efficiently present the class.”

Staff Sgt. John Raulston, 333rd TRS instructor, believes this approach is necessary to protect his students from the virus.

“We don’t know the true danger of the virus,” said Raulston. “We are still discovering more about it, and keeping the students safe is a top priority.” 

Over the past 18 months, the 333rd looked at many different government and commercial products for hosting online cyber training before selecting CTEP.

Captain Nicholas Hiser, former Chief of Innovation and 333rd TRS instructor, believes only through the partnership and the proactive efforts by 333rd staff and the DISA Cybersecurity Range (CSR) team was the unit perfectly postured to leverage the capability when faced with COVID-19.

“Mr. David K. Richardson and his DISA CSR team are incredible mission partners, where both our organizations worked together to enhance and evolve the CTEP capability into the game changer it is today,” said Hiser.

The COVID-19 crisis created an opportunity for Raulston and the other instructors to fully integrate Discord and CTEP into an effective method of training.

“Our leadership has given us this opportunity to give our full effort and ideas into an interactive way of teaching and it has been very beneficial,” said Raulston. “The students have given positive feedback and we want to continue to teach our Airmen this way.”

Griffin believes virtual classes like these are necessary because of Keesler’s crucial mission.

“Our mission is essential to the Air Force and we must continue to deliver mission-ready professionals,” said Griffin. “The students are comfortable and focused, giving us an effective way of teaching them while maintaining safety precautions.” 

Lt Col Andrew Miller, 333 TRS commander, explains his pride in his squadron.

“I am extremely proud of the constantly evolving thinking and flexibility of cadre and students in this unit,” said Miller. “This isn’t your parents’ AETC--the beauty of being a part of an organization like the 81st Training Group and the 333rd TRS is that these grass-roots innovations by our Airmen happen all the time.”