AFSPC commander encourages students to use their cyber skills

General John E. Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, talks to Virginia Allred Stacey Junior/Senior High School students about the advantages of early exposure to advanced technology during a visit to Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas, Sept. 3. Members of 24th Air Force, who fall under the general's command, mentor CyberPatriot participants at Stacey annually as part of the national high school cyber defense competition. This year, more than 100 teams are participating from across the greater San Antonio area, include 24 middle schools. (U.S. Air Force photo/Christine D. Millette)

General John E. Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, talks to Virginia Allred Stacey Junior/Senior High School students about the advantages of early exposure to advanced technology during a visit to Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas, Sept. 3. Members of 24th Air Force, who fall under the general's command, mentor CyberPatriot participants at Stacey annually as part of the national high school cyber defense competition. This year, more than 100 teams are participating from across the greater San Antonio area, include 24 middle schools. (U.S. Air Force photo/Christine D. Millette)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- General John E. Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander visited a Virginia Allred Stacey Junior/Senior High School classroom Sept. 3 to witness a class full of CyberPatriot participants learning the basics required to participate in the national high school cyber defense competition.

As the AFSPC commander, Hyten is responsible for organizing, training, equipping and maintaining mission-ready cyberspace forces for the U.S. Air Force and combatant commands around the world. General Hyten visited the CyberPatriot team because members of 24th Air Force, stationed at Lackland and belonging to AFSPC, participate in mentoring CyberPatriot teams across the city of San Antonio each school year.

"There are great things about this team," said Hyten. "First is that you will love your teammates, you will love what you get to learn together, and you will love when you compete and do well... You will learn skills you can use in your future to get a job - but the best thing [you will learn] is how to defend yourselves.

"One of the things we do in our command is we get to defend our nation," continued the general. "There's really no better feeling in the world than coming to work every day to defend the nation."

The four-star talked to the students about his school days in Huntsville, Alabama, where he was provided the opportunity to program a computer using paper tape, then punch cards. He said, aside from the nightmare of dropping your punch cards, he enjoyed the experience and it put him way ahead of his peers at the time.

"Look at where you are today," said the Hyten. "In this high school, in this place, with computers on your desk, with computers where you live. Whether you guys realize it or not, you are sitting in a place that will give you the ability to do things in the future that you can't fathom now. Whether you decide to come into the Air Force, whether you decide to go get a job in the information technology world, or whether you decide to go get a job somewhere else, all this stuff you are learning as part of CyberPatriot is going to become critically important."

As stated by the CyberPatriot website, teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services in a six-hour period.

"The most exciting thing to see is some of these students who may have never been exposed to this kind of technology before, really light up and come into their own as they grasp the concepts and really start solving problems through their own creativity," said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Meeks, Joint Force Headquarters - Cyber senior enlisted leader, and a mentor for the Stacey team.

Encouraging participation in this program is not only a priority for the Air Force and its cyber operators, but is a key community effort. San Antonio is a cyber city on the rise, said retired Lt. Col. Bernard Cruz, a former 24th Air Force member, and now a mentor liaison for the CyberPatriot program in San Antonio.

"With this program, we are providing options for students to get more involved in technology, to which they may not otherwise have exposure," said Cruz. "They are learning about Security+ and Network+ [information technology certifications], and while they are encouraged to use those tools to continue their education in college, if they get those certifications during their high school tenure they are able to get jobs straight out of high school. We are helping to develop a technological workforce for the city and nation; for the need that exists now and in the future."

Cruz said that the city of San Antonio met its goal of fielding more than 100 teams this school year, which includes 24 middle schools. In order for those teams to thrive, more mentors are needed, especially in the area around JBSA - Lackland.

"This is an opportunity for 24th Air Force members and others with an interest in encouraging science, technology, engineering and math education to give back to their local communities, and truly make a difference for the next generation of cyber," said Cruz. Those in the San Antonio area interested in either mentoring a team full-time or just providing part-time subject matter expertise to different teams around the city, please contact Cruz at bcruz@silotechgroup.com. Outside of the San Antonio area, those interested in volunteering can volunteer through the CyberPatriot website.