Ohio unit wins national award for performance in information, cyber dominance

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Paul Stennett
  • 179th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

This national award is to honor small information dominance/cyberspace units for sustained superior performance and profession excellence while managing core information dominance and/or cyberspace functions, and for contributions that most improved Air Force (AF) and (or) Department of Defense (DoD) operations and missions.

Constantly changing and adapting, the 179 AW CF members have evolved with the technology and threats to maintain cyber dominance and provide excellent customer service.

Butler said, "I think what sets us apart from other units is the diversity of our team, not just from a cultural perspective, but also from the breadth of experience our Airmen have.”

Five years ago every member of the team made a commitment to become trained and certified ethical hackers, regardless of their military job. The training and knowledge gained in the process has also benefited the traditional guardsmen in their civilian jobs while gaining experience that instills the cyber warrior ethos and a culture of compliance in all the Airmen.

As more of our everyday jobs rely on computers and new technologies, this team is at the forefront of employing innovative thinking, even when it comes to the office layout.

“We have an unending desire to tear down barriers where they exist not only logically but physically as well” said Butler. “You can see it in the open floor plan of our security operations center, where serendipitous interactions between individuals force the human friction that is the spark of creativity.”

Butler explained the environment of openness allows them to open new doors and excel. His senior non-commissioned officers have initiated an Airman exchange program within the shops. This program allows Airmen to work different jobs within the CF to really drill down on the breadth of experience and gain a holistic sense of what each team member brings to the table.

Butler said, “This helps them to seize moments of synergy and solve the really tough problems.”

A testament to this is how well the team scores through the Assured Compliance Assessment System (ACAS), a self-reporting system that allows the team to track vulnerabilities and how well they mitigate those risks. The bench mark score is at 2.5 and the lower the number the better. The 179 AW excels with a low score of 0.84.

“The real trick is patching the systems and not impacting the user’s experience” said Butler. “We try to keep the security high and the convenience level high, as oftentimes security will come at the cost of convenience.”

Continuing with sustained superior performance, while the whole team was still in garrison, they were the first in the ANG with only in-house labor to upgrade about 900 computers to Windows 10 at a cost savings of $114,000.

The team strives to remain in the top five Air Force Network enclaves through these efforts.

Butler’s team also contributed to the DoD and AF with their efforts by supporting seven expeditionary air communication squadrons enabling the joint surveillance target attack radar system global intelligence upgrade, pioneering AF Central Command’s (AFCENT) cyber capabilities by writing the initial operating instructions, concept of operations, tactics, techniques and procedures, and along with 20 mission products for the first and only mission defense team in the Area of Responsibility.

The unit’s lean forward mentality allowed deployed members working in a pathfinder unit to provide cyber defense for the radar system the battlespace command and control center used in AFCENT, which covers operations in a 944,000 square mile hostile airspace.

With cyberattacks becoming more prevalent, the AF is continuing to shift its concentration from operating and maintaining traditional information technology services to stronger offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

Butler recently applied to become a pathfinder unit to look at the cyber terrain and identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

“A pathfinder unit develops the methods/guidelines/operating procedures, analysis, and results completely out of hide,” 2nd Lt. Angel Marrero Rivera, director of operations for the 179 AW CF. “These results are then used as the cornerstone for other units to mirror. In other words, a pathfinder unit paves the way for all other Air Force units.”

The team’s mantra is to keep moving forward and employ innovative thinking to what they do every day. It is exactly this mindset that has made the Communication Flight at the 179 AW a leader in the Air National Guard.