Less than a decade ago, the Coast Guard realized it needed to grow its cyber capabilities in order to protect not just Coast Guard units, hardware, data, and control and communication systems, but also to protect the greater maritime transportation system. Consequently, Coast Guard Cyber Command, which works in conjunction with U.S. Cyber Command, was established in 2013, and with just 50 people. As the program grew into the Coast Guard’s Office of Cyber Forces, which stood-up in 2017.
At that time, Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander of CGCYBER, knew he had to grow support and understanding of an entirely new mission.
“Cyberspace is an operational domain for the Coast Guard, and we operate within it just like we do at sea, in the air, and on land,” said Lunday. “What we do in the physical domains increasingly depends on what happens in cyberspace, so our operations must be tied together and synchronized across all of the operational domains.”
Preparing a team for operating in the cyber domain would require the best-trained active, reserve and civilian team members. However, given the immediate need for cyber talent to staff the command, plus the length of the required training being more than 40 weeks, the Coast Guard needed to tap the civilian skills of its Reserve Component.
Making assignments based on something other than someone’s Coast Guard competencies and experience was a first for the Coast Guard Reserve force, but it enabled the new CGCYBER reserve division to go from concept to full operating capacity in months, rather than years.
Cmdr. William Kintz, the senior reserve officer at CGCYBER, said most of the reserve cyber billets would have the ability to conduct their missions remotely via a unique Remote Participation Program the command formalized.
“The nature of our operational environment isn’t tied to physical geography,” said Kintz. “That specific piece is what makes this such a unique opportunity. You’re less likely to sign up for a billet on the other side of the continent if you know you have to fly there every month, so this opens up truly the entire Reserve force to leverage as much of that talent as we can.”
The Office of Cyber Forces said the Coast Guard released a message requesting reservists with cyber backgrounds, regardless of rank or rating, to apply for billets to build this new capacity. Over 200 people called to ask about the new jobs, and more than 60 people sent in applications. Reserve officers and enlisted members from across five ratings stood up the new reserve division.
Today, CGCYBER has grown in size to more than 300 active duty, civilian, and contractor members. Over its inaugural year, the size of CGCYBER’s reserve division has grown by more than 60 percent.
“Close to half of the inbound reservists this past fiscal year were active duty personnel who chose to affiliate with the Reserve upon their release,” said Kintz. “Their decision was driven by the opportunity to continue working with CGCYBER in a reserve capacity. That’s a huge win in talent retention for the Coast Guard.”
CGCYBER reservists focus on one of six specialty areas ranging from intelligence to threat hunting and penetration testing. They train and prepare to mobilize in response to cyber events within Coast Guard networks or within the Maritime Transportation System, supporting the daily operations of the command in the process. They are ingrained and interwoven seamlessly with their active duty counterparts.
CGCYBER reservists are already proving to be an invaluable asset, not only in operational capacity, but also in retaining talent for those leaving active duty service who still have the passion to contribute to the mission.