24th members guide JROTC team in AFA CyberPatriot competition

Chris Cormman (left) and Wesley Eaton, both juniors at John Jay High School, work to free their computers from viruses and hardware and software problems during the third round of the national Air Force Association CyberPatriot competition Saturday. Col. Craig Berg, 24th Air Force standardization and evaluation director, Tech. Sgt. Sung Kim, 624th Operations Center offensive operations controller, and Senior Airman Patrick Stevens, a network defense tactics development technician with the 23rd Information Operations Squadron, all volunteer as mentors for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and oversee their efforts during CyberPatriot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

Chris Cormman (left) and Wesley Eaton, both juniors at John Jay High School, work to free their computers from viruses and hardware and software problems during the third round of the national Air Force Association CyberPatriot competition Saturday. Col. Craig Berg, 24th Air Force standardization and evaluation director, Tech. Sgt. Sung Kim, 624th Operations Center offensive operations controller, and Senior Airman Patrick Stevens, a network defense tactics development technician with the 23rd Information Operations Squadron, all volunteer as mentors for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and oversee their efforts during CyberPatriot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

The CyberPatriot competitors represent their school against nearly 500 teams during the third round of competition Dec. 4. The top teams compete in the finals in Orlando. The Air Force Association serves as the lead for CyberPatriot, University of Texas-San Antonio and SAIC, Inc. (NYSE: SAI), a scientific, engineering, and technology applications company, provide the educational tools for the program. While UTSA provides schools with most of the academic information and solely runs the collegiate competition, SAIC provides the hardware and software to make the competition possible. The Air Force is the fourth contributor to CyberPatriot with manpower through volunteers like the ones from 24th Air Force. (Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

The CyberPatriot competitors represent their school against nearly 500 teams during the third round of competition Dec. 4. The top teams compete in the finals in Orlando. The Air Force Association serves as the lead for CyberPatriot, University of Texas-San Antonio and SAIC, Inc. (NYSE: SAI), a scientific, engineering, and technology applications company, provide the educational tools for the program. While UTSA provides schools with most of the academic information and solely runs the collegiate competition, SAIC provides the hardware and software to make the competition possible. The Air Force is the fourth contributor to CyberPatriot with manpower through volunteers like the ones from 24th Air Force. (Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Just walking into the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps building at John Jay High School, a stone's throw from Lackland, is a testament to the unit's dedication to being the best.

The hall of trophies more closely resembles a sheer wall of trophies of all sizes and shapes and reasons for being and on a Saturday, when so many other kids are hanging out, the dedicated cadets are at school, working diligently.

While drill team members and instructors filter in and out of the activity room, in search of snacks and a much needed break from drill practice, a select few cadets sit, mostly quietly, clicking away at their computers. The cadets on laptops aren't inside to avoid the intensity of drill, they too, are competing.

This teenage posse of network security troubleshooters are duking it out with hackers on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. They're running antivirus software, making friends and learning how to operate in cyberspace during the third round of the Air Force Association (AFA)'s high school cyber defense competition - CyberPatriot.

"It's like solving a Rubik's Cube," said David Peterson, a 10th grader looking up from the Linux system in front of him for the first time all day. "First you have to figure out what you're looking at, and then you have to solve it."

The AFA decided in 2007 to do what they could to help JROTC and Civil Air Patrol cadets and other children get back into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects and CyberPatriot, the world's largest high school-level cyber competition, was the way they chose to challenge the high schoolers, said Col. Craig Berg, 24th Air Force standardization and evaluation director, who volunteers as a coach and mentor along with Tech. Sgt. Sung Kim, 624th Operations Center cyberspace operations controller, and Senior Airman Patrick Stevens, a network defense tactics development technician with the 23rd Information Operations Squadron, both stationed on Lackland.

Dr. Gregory White, Director for the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at University of Texas-San Antonio explained that while AFA serves as the lead for CyberPatriot, UTSA and SAIC, Inc., a scientific, engineering, and technology applications company, provide the educational tools for the program. While UTSA provides schools with most of the academic information and solely runs the collegiate competition, SAIC provides the hardware and software to make the competition possible. The Air Force is the fourth contributer to CyberPatriot with manpower through volunteers like the ones from 24th Air Force.

Colonel Berg said the mentors are not allowed to help the cadets find the answer, but oversee the competition and keep them focused.

"We're walking a fine line as mentors, advising them, but not pointing things out to them," he said. "We observe and remind them to remember their checklists. That keeps it fair."

This year, approximately 500 teams competed in CyberPatriot and the John Jay team is experiencing what it's like to go up against the lot in hopes for a trophy of their own. With that said, the cyber teens are grounded in the true benefits of a competition this big.

"I don't even think winning is the most important thing for me. Getting experience in it is most important - winning comes second," said team leader Wesley Eaton. "Getting a chance to use this platform is important because it's something I want to do for my job - although I do want to go to Orlando."

The junior said he's learned that it takes a team to succeed and have a chance at the finals in Orlando, Fla.

"Successfully competing isn't just knowledge," said Cadet Eaton. "You have to work together to use your resources and accomplish what you're trying to do."

Sergeant Kim said he was impressed with how much the students already knew going into their mentoring sessions.

"Working with the students has taught me that students today are very much connected and in-tune with computers and the Internet," he said. "It was great to see just how much they already understand about computers and the need for computer defense."

Colonel Berg, who lives separately from his family due to his military requirements, said working with the students has been a way for him to give back to children around his son's age.

Approximately 15 local JROTC units in the San Antonio area are vying for the Mayor's Cup. The team who scored the highest in the first two rounds will be awarded the cup during a banquet Dec. 11. The numbers are in and the waiting game has begun. Until then, these cyber warriors stand against all the other teams with tools of the trade - like locking their parents out of their computers just for fun.

"I've actually learned more about network security than I thought I could," said Cadet Peterson. "I've actually been able to lock down my computer at home. It was a bad thing. I locked my Mom out."

He unlocked it as soon as she asked him to. He's part of a team that shoots to be the best.

"I like feeling that we're unique," said Cadet Eaton. "We're the only group in our school that's doing this. We're the pioneering group who will decide where this thing goes for its life. "

With the solid foundation being built, it's only a matter of time until it goes right out in the JROTC unit's hall - next to all the other trophies.