Navigating the Cyber Frontier: The 126 ARW Way

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Troy Barnes
  • 126th Air Refueling Wing

The Department of the Air Force is highlighting cybersecurity this month and this year's overarching theme is "Cybersecurity – Every Airman, Every Guardian – Mission Possible!"

Airmen and Guardians play a critical role in maintaining operational security. From practicing a safe online presence, to learning the fundamentals of cybersecurity and understanding what its contribution to the mission is, the 126th Air Refueling Wing’s Communications Flight specialists explain the importance of their work.

Staff Sgt. Joshua McCoid, a network operations specialist from the flight, puts it simply.

“We’re maintaining functionality of communications, whether it be radio, cyber, or just digital communications. Maintaining those, making sure that we have the capability and the availability. Making sure nobody can mess with that signal as well,” said McCoid.

In an age of rapidly advancing technology, the U.S. military adapts accordingly. With every software update or newly released connected device comes new ways for the enemy to puncture our digital defenses, leaving our greatest assets vulnerable. It’s the responsibility of our servicemembers to continually adapt their cybersecurity techniques to defend against malicious actors and foreign adversaries.

Airman Maximillian Bremer, an information assurance specialist, has an answer to this. With a background in scripting, Bremer wants to work his way into becoming an ethical hacker. Right now, he’s using his skills to identify shortcomings in the Air Force’s cyberspace.

“We look for outdated versions of software that shouldn't be on the system that could allow a bad actor to get in," said Bremer. "Anything that a bad actor could use to get into the system, or that someone already in the system could use to exfiltrate data that we don't want to leave the system.”

It’s extremely important that all guardsmen are up to date on the latest security practices to ensure operational security. Airmen of all ranks are entrusted with sensitive information, which must be shared only with those who require it, making it crucial that proper cybersecurity hygiene is practiced by all individuals, rather than a select few experts of the field.

One of those experts, McCoid, switched from active duty to the Illinois Air National Guard this year.

During some of his time in active duty, he worked as a cyber warfare operations specialist, where he specialized in Windows operating systems. Engaging in cyber warfare among his DoD counterparts, an exercise referred to as a hackathon, McCoid sought out innovation within his field to expand the understanding and ability of the DoD, experimenting boldly and creatively to develop the cyber field.

Thinking about a career after active duty, McCoid sought true mastery in his field and saw the Illinois Air National Guard as an opportunity to hone in on specific skills.

“I think I want to stretch my legs … I want to be really good at this one thing,” said McCoid. "I want to really focus in on being an event manager, you know, where I'm in charge of making sure all the security logs get to where they're going, or I'm an analyst of some sort."

“I want to be really good at this … I want to be streamlined and expert in this.”

McCoid searched for a more conducive work-life balance by joining the Illinois National Guard and says he has no regrets.

According to Maj. Christopher Kruse, the 126th Communications Flight commander, we need to be aware of what good digital conduct looks like, and this month is a time to expand on what we already know about maintaining security.

The Department of the Air Force’s focus on cybersecurity expresses a commitment to safeguarding missions and ensuring that every Airman and Guardian is equipped with the knowledge and tools to protect against digital threats.

“Strong cyber security is the foundation of trust in our digital world,” said Kruse, “which is important at work and especially at home with the vast Internet of things.”

Here are some resources available to learn more about online safety: