Hill AFB Airmen mentor future cyber defenders at local school

  • Published
  • By Todd Cromar 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Cybersecurity is a growing need in today’s world, as technology advances rapidly and threats from hacking, viruses, and information theft affect all industries and our nation’s defense.

To address these challenges and fill future job vacancies in the Department of Defense, the Air & Space Force Association “Cyber Patriot Program” aims to spark interest in cybersecurity among young students through this national youth cyber education program.

The program, which inspires K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other STEM disciplines, also features a national youth cyber defense competition, that puts middle and high school students in charge of securing simulated virtual networks.

Several Airmen stationed at Hill AFB have been volunteering as technical mentors to local middle school students who are participating in the after-school computer science program and competing at Quest Academy Charter School.

These mentors, Master Sgt. Jarred Dirito, Airman 1st Class Kaeli Schiff, and Senior Airman Rafael Morales, all attached to 75th Communications and Information Directorate, have been meeting each week with the students ages 11 through 15, who are learning cybersecurity and networking skills.

The Cyber Patriot competition simulates a scenario where the students are newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. They are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and challenged to find and fix cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and maintain critical services over a six-hour period.

“The competition teaches the kids the basics of cybersecurity and networking,” said Master Sgt. Dirito. “They also have to learn how to research, because if there is something wrong with a computer that they don’t know about, they then have to diagnose and fix the problem.”

Student teams compete for the top placement within their state and region, and then the top teams in the nation earn an all-expense paid trip to Baltimore for the national final’s competition, where they can win national recognition and scholarship money.

Jennifer Jones, cyber team coach and teacher at Quest Academy, said that her student’s competition scores had significantly improved from previous years, thanks to the help from the Air Force technical mentors.

“With the technical expertise of the Airman tutors, who are professionals in the field, our middle school team placed first in the state of Utah this year, which was in the top 11% nationally of the state finals competition and in the top 15% nationally in the national semi-finals competition,” said Jones.

Dirito said, “These are an amazing group of kids, shortly after beginning our tutor help, I immediately realized the benefits the information directorate could gain, by helping them out. It’s also amazing to watch our Airmen interacting with the kids, who then open up to the fact that the Air Force is not just all about marching, uniforms and jets.”

For more information on the Cyber Patriot Program, visit http://www.uscyberpatriot.org