Solomon leaves Keesler poised for cyber future

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Lt. Col. Scott Solomon never expected to spend four years at Keesler when he arrived to take command of the 333rd Training Squadron in 2008. But those four years have been marked by a whirlwind of cyberspace training transformation and 81st Training Group reorganization.

Solomon, deputy commander of the 81st TRG for the past two years, is now headed to Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, to become executive officer to Lt. Gen. Douglas Owens, vice commander of Air Education and Training Command.

Dec. 7, 2005, the Air Force announced that cyberspace was going to be a warfighting domain for the service, along with air and space.

"Unlike air, land, sea and space, cyberspace is a manmade domain -- the physics that come along with the other domains don't apply to cyber," Solomon observed. "The Air Force, the Department of Defense and the world are still finding their way in cyber. Cyber has no boundaries, and that brings a set of challenges that we haven't faced in the past. In the military, there are clear, delineated boundaries when we go to another country to fight a war, what we can and can't do. We're still learning how to fight in cyber."

Solomon explained the five military foundational aspects of cyber that are now trained at Keesler.

"First we need to be able to establish the network, the cyber domain," he said. "Then we must be able to operate within that domain. We must develop the tactics, techniques and procedures to defend it against attack, how to exploit it and how to plan our own attacks."

To meet new cyber training needs, Keesler transformed 14 initial skills courses into 19 new courses while facing the challenges of securing necessary equipment and meeting personnel demands.

"We had a new domain but we didn't really have the skill sets commensurate with the tasks at hand -- what would our new courses look like?" Solomon recalled. "We took all of the skill sets and 'rebinned' them into new Air Force Specialty Codes. For example, a knowledge operations person now takes the skill sets of information management and computer programming. Cyber surety includes six different AFSCs from the past to be aligned with today's cyber operational mission."

Four Keesler squadrons were involved in this cyber training revolution -- the 332nd, 333rd, 336th and 338th. The 332nd TRS had foundational training, the 333rd TRS had officer and senior enlisted training and the 336th and 338th TRS had AFSC-awarding courses.

"We couldn't just stop all training and resume a year later," the colonel pointed out. "We couldn't stop the pipeline. Lots of things had to work concurrently -- what the courses were and what they were going to become."

The first new enlisted course, information technology fundamentals, was launched in October 2009. Undergraduate cyber training for officers was launched in June 2010. The last of the 19 new courses, enlisted warfare operations, stood up in January 2011.

All of the courses were challenging to stand up, but none more difficult than the UCT for officers at Stennis Hall, according to Solomon, whose squadron was charged with making it happen.

"We had to take a six-week course and turn it into a six-month course requiring a permanent change of station," he said. "We had to make sure we weren't just adding stuff to our previous basic communication officer course -- the course I came through at Keesler in 1994. We revamped the whole thing."

The course now has 14 blocks of instruction. The first four are unclassified so partners from other nations can be trained. Then foreign students "take the off ramp" and training continues for U.S. Air Force officers in the remaining 10 blocks.

At this point, UCT students must have a top-secret clearance just to get inside the secure compartmentalized information facility . A major construction project was undertaken to double the size of this training area. In addition to the infrastructure requirements, training equipment had to be acquired, including a variety of simulators and commercial-standard equipment used in industry today so fundamentals could be taught with hands-on realism.

Beyond his responsibilities for cyber training as 333rd TRS commander, Solomon was called on to serve as a facilitator for an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century event when Program Budget Decision 720 mandated manpower reductions to save money. The results of that AFSO 21 event later led to the stand-down of the 332nd TRS last June, dropping the number of squadrons in the 81st TRG to six.

"Funding cuts from PBD 720 and later from (Research and Development 703) gutted a lot of positions and created leadership gaps across the group, but reorganization helped us to get to where we are today," he stressed. "From start to finish, we've been able to see it through. We were aggressive, but we executed our plan and it worked. We've been able to find spaces for nearly all of the faces."

Among other highlights over the past four years, Solomon cited facilities modernization in the 81st TRG, the 81st Training Wing's successful unit compliance inspection and working to get people promoted and selected for great opportunities. On a personal level, the colonel served terms as president of both the Gulf Coast chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and John C. Stennis Chapter No. 332 of the Air Force Association.

The Solomon family arrived as Keesler was recovering from Hurricane Katrina and rebuilding its housing areas, moving three times in four years. Before long, the family had embraced life in coastal Mississippi.

"We love the water and we have a boat," Solomon said. "We changed how we fished to saltwater, and my wife, Devalynn, caught her first hammerhead shark off Ship Island."

Solomon is proud of his wife's involvement with the Keesler Spouses Club and the mentoring she provided to other spouses. She'll remain with their three children until the end of the school year, when oldest son Paul, who received an appointment to the Air Force Academy, graduates from Biloxi High School. Daughter Sarah will be a senior next year. Youngest son, David, is almost 7 years old.

The family plans to take a year off from its epic Christmas light and music display that's become a Keesler tradition while they get settled at Randolph.

"We're going to miss Keesler and its people, both military and civilian," Solomon admitted. "I never really understood why so many Air Force people retire here ... now I understand the appeal."