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333rd TRS 'Spartans' lead cyberspace training into future

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- It is an exciting time to be serving in the 333rd Training Squadron at Keesler. Each year, the mighty Spartans are responsible for training more than 5,000 joint and total force students, generally ranging from lieutenant colonel to senior airman, in full spectrum communications and cyberspace-related career fields.

This training includes 10 different cyberspace and support Air Force specialties in the squadron's information technology fundamentals course. With more than 4,000 trainees each year, the ITF course is the Air Force's second largest initial skills course. The Spartans train the enlisted students in the cyber warfare operator course  and officers in undergraduate cyberspace training. Finally, the 333rd TRS professionals train joint students in spectrum management and continue to train a wide range of Airmen in supplemental and advanced courses from networking to communications security.

Guided by the commander, Lt. Col. Vincent T. Sullivan III, the highly-skilled instructors and staff are up to the task of meeting the dynamic and diverse nature of across-the-board cyberspace training needed to sustain the Air Force and sister services' end strength requirements. The squadron's success rests, in part, on its ability to adapt to the ever-shifting requirements in the field in order to provide the highest quality, most relevant training to its widely varied student population. To satisfy the warfighter demand for quality students, squadron leaders have built a plan to ensure continuous improvement and excellence are woven into the very fabric of the Spartan culture.

Last June, squadron leaders embarked on a mission to redefine what it means to produce technical and operationally proficient graduates. With the help of every squadron member, the leadership team went through the analytical process of decomposition and visualization to graphically depict every aspect of training and to review the processes in place to execute that training. The purpose of this deep-dive relook into training "as is" was to develop a well-reasoned, sound strategy to understand and meet the growing national requirements for highly-trained cyberspace professionals. This required a close examination of guidance from the national level to the local level so the leadership team analyzed the available strategic, operational, and tactical publications and developed linkages between those guiding documents. This provided the clarity of purpose needed by the squadron to rewrite its vision and mission statements.

This newfound vision inspired the team to develop an enlightened set of squadron focus points which it calls the lines of operation. The Spartans were already driven by the four major graded areas: executing the mission, managing resources, leading people, and improving the unit.

The squadron added three additional lines of operation: rapidly develop and produce operationally relevant curriculum to support the warfighter, create the most revered cyber instructors in in the Defense Department, and graduate the most lethal cyber operators in the world. The fresh focus on these priorities has allowed squadron members to dedicate time toward the squadron's lines of operation while minimizing time on efforts which do not support the unit's vision.

So how does the squadron measure success?

In a recent briefing to new students, Sullivan said, "My goal is to make you the most lethal cyberspace operators in the world, and that's what we are going to do."  In order to accomplish this and other goals of the unit, the squadron has already put the strategic plan into effect.

Since June 2014, the squadron has sent 15 instructors and staff members to operational units, training opportunities, and exercises, all designed to strengthen the competence level of the training team. The results have been astonishing. The training and operational experiences have translated into swift changes to modernize the curriculum across several courses, and have led to infrastructure and equipment upgrades as well. 

"We are receiving more and more positive feedback from commanders in the field, and more notably from our recent graduates," Sullivan said.

The improvements are definitely working.

The squadron has multiple ongoing course rewrites, three course resource estimates in the approval chain, and a training plan currently routed for implementation. Once approved, these documents will continue to increase the currency of the curriculum, and this process will continue as the unit ramps up its efforts to keep pulling cutting-edge, operationally relevant tactics, techniques, and procedures into its courses.

The squadron currently operates out of three facilities and is expanding its secure training area to support the projected growth in trained personnel requirements. The squadron is also adding more than $1 million in new equipment to support growth and to modernize the cyberspace training enterprise.

The protection of our nation's cyberspace domain is critically important. How the Air Force contributes to the overall missions of protecting America's critical infrastructure and reducing the national vulnerability to cyber attacks is dependent on the ability of the 333rd TRS to effectively train our newest cyberspace warriors.

It is uncertain what the future holds with respect to new technologies and the fast-paced changes in our cyberspace career fields. What is certain, however, is that the  squadron has a strategic plan in place and a vision which will allow it to adapt to our nation's requirements and our Air Force's execution of training to help ensure our national security.