Schoolhouse Spotlight: Cyber warfare operator course

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

The 333rd Training Squadron is home to the Air Force’s cyber warfare operator training course.

“We focus on network security here,” said Lt. Col. Vincent Sullivan III, 333rd TRS commander. “[We] defend the Air Force network; perform forensic research in the digital environment, pinpoint weaknesses adversaries can potentially take advantage of and propose defensive measures to protect our networks.”

As a cross-train only career field, cyber warfare Airmen represent the small portion of enlisted operators in the Air Force.

“Folks from all different career fields apply to be cyber operators,” he said. “Security forces, crew chiefs, firefighters, medical Airmen – it’s very diverse here.”

Sullivan said the reasoning behind the cross-train only status is because of the complicated nature of the job; an Airman with several years in will have a fuller repertoire of Air Force knowledge and understanding to pull from.

“It’s a highly technical career, and because of the nature of the work we want more experienced people,” Sullivan explained. “Although, in the future, we do plan on opening the specialty code to non-prior service Airmen.”

The success of the program and eventual integration of NPS Airmen can be seen from multiple angles. The student populace is nearly doubling from 134 this year to 324 in 2016, and the corps of staff sergeant instructors at the 333rd TRS captured almost half of the available promotion slots in 2015.

“I’m extremely proud of my instructors here,” Sullivan said. “They captured five of the 12 available stripes in the career field. I’m very excited for them to continue their Air Force careers.”

He also pointed out how much potential there is as a cyber warfare operator, particularly the opportunities presented to the NCOs that become instructors at the schoolhouse.

“This is an emerging field,” he said. “And we have outstanding instructors to help lead the way. We’re constantly giving them opportunities to grow. Whether it’s through additional certifications or operational immersions, we’re ensuring our instructors maintain the real-world knowledge to back up what they’re teaching – and as a result we have the most lethal cyber operators in the world.”

Staff Sgts. Karl Kistler and James Hansen, 333rd TRS cyber warfare operator instructors, are two of the instructors who have earned a line number for technical sergeant.

Kistler, whose job was converted to the cyber warfare operator specialty code, also sees the possibilities available to him from standing behind the instructor’s podium.

“It was a shock when I first got here, this schoolhouse is very intense but we all help each other out,” Kistler said. “But it’s helped me grow as an NCO and was a big part in preparing me to make technical sergeant because we’re so hands-on with the career material. Before I was only working on about 10 percent of this job, but now I get to see the other 90 percent of what we do; I’ve learned about different units and different bases and met a lot of diverse people from all across the Air Force that teach me just as much as I’ve taught them.”

The instructors are also pleased with the additional opportunities afforded to them.

“Not only are we learning more aspects of our job while instructing here, but we also earn a Community College of the Air Force degree during the Basic Instructor Course, which allows us to actually teach in some states,” Kistler said. “It’s made us much more marketable and has been a great stepping stone to eventually becoming a senior NCO.”

“We’re a really small career field,” Hansen added. “So I’m glad I got to come here. Once I go back to my operational job I’ll know so many more people and have a more broad scope of how cyber warfare works.”

By continually pursuing new training and certifications, Sullivan insists his instructors are the best in the Defense Department.

“We want them to be the DOD’s most revered, professional instructors,” Sullivan said.”