7/15/2011 – LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Six teens that placed the Alamo City third in the nation during the CyberPatriot national high school cyber defense competition this spring started summer-hire work July 5 at the 33rd Network Warfare Squadron’s Air Force Computer Emergency Response Team – a subordinate unit of the 67th Network Warfare Wing and 24th Air Force.
“We will train them to watch security alerts that occur on our networks and respond to those,” said Richard White, 67th NWW director of information operations, who teamed with Chris Cook, Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Technology Committee volunteer, to plug high school students into the summer hire program. “Those are our entry-level positions. I know several of these students have completed the advanced studies and have the certificates to start work that we would require of them if they were hired [full time], working as civilians or in the military.”
It’s not Spy Kids 24. These young adults are part of the Alamo Area Academies magnet school program designed to grow cyber experts right here in San Antonio, said White.
The Alamo Area Academies, a training and educational partnership, provide education, experience and job opportunities for high school students seeking to jump-start their futures and make a seamless transition from high school to college and/or to the workplace. Qualified students receive training in high-wage occupations during their junior and senior years of high school.
White said the magnet schools then filter cyber-minded and qualified individuals to a handful of universities that are part of a National Science Foundation program that targets computer science and computer engineering degrees. The University of Texas at San Antonio is one of the approved schools.
White said even though the students tend to look at this opportunity as a reward, it’s not. They will work alongside military and civilian cyber operators and they’ll be expected to pull their fair share of the weight. Even so, the summer hires are thrilled at the chance to take on real world scenarios, he said.
Jose Banda, last year’s CyberPatriot team captain, said his jaw dropped in excitement when he got the news he would be added on as a summer hire.
“There had been word about the position for the past few months but nothing official,” said Banda, who will be a senior at Southwest High School after the summer. “But when it went through, my heart was filled with happiness that I have the chance to do something not many 17 year olds in the history of the United States have had an opportunity to do.”
No other 17 year old has had the opportunity. While the Alamo Area Academies have pumped their fair share of college students into cyber operations here, this is the first time high school students have been allowed to do the job. White said he would like the students to come away feeling like they were part of the team, that they sharpened their skills and directly contributed to American national security.
“I would like them to say that they felt like they were productive and that they absolutely felt like they had a part in contributing to national security,” he said. “That’s what we do in the Air Force and they should feel like part of our team I have worked in the AFCERT and, me personally, and I know after a short period of time, I felt like I saved the world just coming in and doing my job, because it’s that fast paced and those are the kinds of things you see and their skill sets lend directly to that, and I know that they will contribute immediately. They’ll have their eyes opened a little bit because they will get security clearances and they will see a lot more than they thought they would ever see.”
Russell Hallmark, a Central Texas Technology School student, said most of his friends played off his news of getting hired like it were no big deal, and then they started asking lots of questions. His answer?
“Sorry, I can’t say,” he said to them jabbing back. “It makes me feel like I’m getting into the real world. Like I am already able to make a difference, and that I have so much more to look forward to in that area.”
White said some students asked for the opportunity to stay on after the summer hire program. He said the 24/7 mission of the AFCERT will allow students to put in a few hours here and there even after they return to school in the fall.
“We’re trying to set that up,” he said. “The whole goal is to keep them motivated and keep them on track to get that four-year degree and even higher education.”
Banda said he doesn’t plan on walking away from cyber operations any time soon.
“With this position my dream has come true, a dream I reached for and grabbed with a ferocity and thirst for a greater future – for not only myself, but to help those around me,” he said.
White is optimistic about the future of cyber.
“I’m not very close to retirement, but I’m getting there, and as I see these young people, it really encourages me because I can see that there are people coming up behind those of us who’ve worked here 20 or 25 years,” he explained. “There’s an extreme amount of talent and we don’t have to feel like we can’t retire in the future. There is someone who can, perhaps, do things better than we ever did and that’s what is really hopeful for me.”