University students learn about Cyber mission

Col. Paul Barzler, Air Force Cyber Command (Provisional) Staff Judge Advocate, welcomes a group of students from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana, to Barksdale Air Force Base. The students visited AFCYBER (P) May 5 as a follow up to a recent course, "Studies in Cyberspace," and to learn more about the military's current cyber efforts. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Carla Pampe)

Col. Paul Barzler, Air Force Cyber Command (Provisional) Staff Judge Advocate, welcomes a group of students from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana, to Barksdale Air Force Base. The students visited AFCYBER (P) May 5 as a follow up to a recent course, "Studies in Cyberspace," and to learn more about the military's current cyber efforts. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Carla Pampe)

Capt. Jon Boling, Chief, Air Force Cyber Command (Provisional) Commander's Action Group, briefs a group of students from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana, about current threats in cyberspace. The students visited AFCYBER (P) May 5 as a follow up to a recent course, "Studies in Cyberspace," and to learn more about the military's current cyber efforts. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Carla Pampe)

Capt. Jon Boling, Chief, Air Force Cyber Command (Provisional) Commander's Action Group, briefs a group of students from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana, about current threats in cyberspace. The students visited AFCYBER (P) May 5 as a follow up to a recent course, "Studies in Cyberspace," and to learn more about the military's current cyber efforts. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Carla Pampe)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- A group of students from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La., got a first-hand look at how the Air Force conducts cyberspace operations during a tour of Air Force Cyberspace Command (Provisional), here May 5.

According to Louisiana Tech professor Dr. Brian Etheridge, director of the honors program, the students recently completed an interdisciplinary honors program at Tech entitled "Studies in Cyberspace," which brought together 11 professors from five different disciplines: computer science, engineering, architecture, political science, English, and history. Dr. Etheridge said students from that class were invited to visit AFCYBER (P) to see how security policy to protect the nation's cyber infrastructure is being devised and implemented.

"The purpose was to reinforce what the students learned and heard in their course work, as well as bring them up-to-date on current events in the Air Forces' cyber organization," said Capt. Jon Boling, AFCYBER (P) Commander's Action Group. "Because the honors course is inter-disciplinary in nature, this trip offered a military cyberspace perspective to bright students from various backgrounds, allowing for discussions that ranged from technical to practical."

The students in the group are majoring in everything from engineering and computer science to pre-law, business and communication design. However, Dr. Etheridge said all share an interest in the cyber field.

"[The students] are interested in all aspects [of cyber]," the professor said. "They are interested in the technical issues, but they are also keenly aware of and intrigued by the social, political, and cultural implications of this new communication technology."

Captain Boling said during their tour, the Louisiana Tech students were treated to up-to-date discussions on cyber in the Air Force, as well as cyber research and development, current developments in national cyber law, and the realities of Air Force Network Operations.

"The students toured the Air Force Network Operations Center and saw first-hand how the Air Force watches its networks for malicious activity, as well as how it could respond in a cyber emergency," he said.

Dr. Etheridge said the group was most interested in this portion of their tour.

"They were very impressed to see the developing nerve center of the Air Force's cyber infrastructure," he said.

While the AFCYBER (P) team has given tours to a variety of groups since its standup in September of 2007, Captain Boling feels that student groups like that from Louisiana Tech are especially important.

"We enjoy the opportunity to reach out to students and anyone interested in the Air Force's mission in cyberspace," he said. "Through education and transparent discourse, we seek to raise the awareness of national debates in cyberspace, and we always welcome the chance to interest sharp students in a possible future cyber career in the Air Force."

Working within its own educational programs as well as community colleges and universities, the Air Force is working to grow future cyber operators.

"Over the past three years, local colleges and schools worked directly with members of the AFCYBER (P) staff to develop mutual forums of interest between the command and academia," Captain Boling said. "As AFCYBER (P) transitions to the Air Force Space Command staff, the cyber relationships developed with academia have transitioned to the Center for Cyberspace Research at the Air Force Institute of Technology."

Captain Boling said this educational foundation is something that will continue in the future as the Air Force expands is base of cyber operators.

"The work over the past three years developed incredible momentum in integrating cyberspace curricula into colleges and high schools, a critical aspect of developing expert cyber operators for the future," he said. "The Air Force Institute of Technology is poised to continue that momentum, and continues to expanded cyber discourse with dozens of universities across the country."

While the Louisiana Tech students may not all become cyber operators for the Air Force, Dr. Etheridge said they enjoyed their tour and learning about what the military is doing to keep up with changing technology in cyberspace, adding that changes in cyber over the last few years have less to do with the technology, than with our nation's attitude toward it.

"I think that we as a nation are much more aware of our vulnerabilities than we were a few years ago," he said, "and we are happy that our nation's military is working hard to defend our cyber infrastructure."