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24th AF receives outstanding unit award in first year of existence

Posted 1/7/2011   Updated 1/7/2011 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb
24th Air force Public Affairs

1/7/2011 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The newest numbered air force in the U.S. Air Force took top honors for their efforts in the stand-up of the Air Force cyber component to U.S. Cyber Command.

The 24th Air Force, part of Air Force Space Command, was named an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award winner after distinguishing itself by exceptionally meritorious service from Aug. 18, 2009, its stand-up date, through Oct. 1, 2010, the date it was declared to be at full operational capability, according to the award citation.

"This Air Force-level recognition is a reflection of the hard work done by the men and women of 24th Air Force," said Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, 24th AF commander. "We hit the ground running and never looked back. I'm very proud of every member of 24th Air Force. We've come a long way in a short period of time, and we intend to continue growing our capabilities."

The unit had to be built from the ground up, said 24th Air Force officials. Just seven people stood the watch of the new organization on July 7, 2009.

"24th Air Force was started from scratch," said Col. Mark Ware, 24th Air Force director of operations. "As more and more manpower began to arrive, we had to build every process and program from the ground up. Adding to the complexity, we were manned primarily with personnel who had never been on a staff before."

"Imagine if you were to take a flight-line maintenance squadron and turn them into an operational fighter squadron," said Colonel Ware. "Lots of training, and mindset issues, had to be overcome. What was so impressive is that everyone contributed. Many individuals took on programs they had never heard of before or that had never existed ... they researched, they modified existing programs, and they worked hard to build. I've never seen a more cohesive organization ... everyone pulled together."

Next the 24th Air Force personnel learned and taught the military decision-making model and leveraged anyone with air operations center experience, said Colonel Ware.

"We sent folks to planning courses and spent long hours learning from the Joint handbook on military planning," he said. "Then, we exercised ourselves. We built scenarios and tested our own ability to conduct adaptive planning. We had some real-world planning needs as well and used every opportunity to teach, learn, modify and refine our processes. We've come a long way and we still have a long way to go, but it's pretty amazing to think where we were in July of 2009 with seven individuals and to look at where we are today conducting real-world, time-critical operations on a daily basis ... all achieved in less than 14 months."

Arthur Wachdorf, 24th Air Force senior advisor for intelligence and cyber operations, said the unit has been a leader in operationalizing cyber for the Department of Defense.

"We have a fully functional operations center that develops strategy for the commander and then plans and controls full-spectrum cyber operations," he said. "[Twenty-Fourth Air Force] operators are teamed with our Air Force and Joint partners operating globally, 24/7."

The citation accompanying the award recognized significant strides made in obtaining dedicated intelligence resources to directly support cyberspace operations, shifting from a traditional reactive network defense posture to a more predictive and dynamic mission assurance posture.

Col. Matthew Baker, 24th Air Force director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, broke that down into layman's terms.

"The Air Force ISR enterprise took very deliberate steps to ensure that cyberspace operations received expanding robust intelligence support in an environment where the demand for intelligence support across all domains has never been higher," said Colonel Baker. "The integration of a new ISR group in a direct support role to 24th Air Force operations provides dynamic and growing expertise and support across all intelligence disciplines leading to a more predictive and dynamic mission assurance posture."

Colonel Baker said the lion's share of the credit for the 24th being named an Air Force Outstanding Unit for 2010 should be given directly to the unit's non-commissioned officers and junior officers.

"I never cease to be amazed by the quality, skill, and drive of our NCO's and young officers," said Colonel Baker. "The hard work and dedication of these hard working Airmen created a, 'can do,' esprit de corps that has enabled this recognition and mission success to be normal ops for the 24th."

Meeting the needs of the Air Force's normal operations in cyber takes a full-team approach, because cyber acquisition is unique, Mr. Wachdorf said.

"We have professionals in the 688th [Information Operations Wing, a subordinate unit of the 24th Air Force] who sit beside the warfighter and modify our defensive systems on the fly to ensure we have the latest threat information in our systems," he said. "Furthermore, 24th Air Force worked hand-in-hand with Air Force Space Command to revise short-term cyber acquisitions with the goal of inculcating leading edge technology into our defensive fabric."

Lieutenant Col. Steven Ranalli, 24th Air Force operations training chief, said his team structured their training to focus Air Force cyberspace professionals to think in terms of mission assurance instead of network assurance. The citation called the training radically restructured.

"Mission assurance means focusing on operational needs based on defending critical warfighter assets and fighting through an attack," said Colonel Ranalli. "In the past the Air Force focused on network assurance, operating as a network service provider attempting to defend the entire network and reacting to threats by disconnecting from the network."

Colonel Ranalli called the new training a work in progress.

"The Air Force has taken significant steps over the past year in an effort to meet senior leader objectives but there's still plenty of work ahead," he said. "Several training courses are still in development, advanced training systems need to be built, and we're in the process of establishing a system of responsibility, accountability and standards to improve the Air Force's ability to fly, fight and win in cyberspace."

The general stated that this improvement process will continue throughout the command's efforts, as it builds from this sturdy cornerstone.

"We will continue to operationalize Air Force network operations and professionalize cyber operations training to create a robust and talented pool of Air Force cyber operators," said General Webber. "Innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness will continue to be essential elements as we grow in this domain."

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