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Army launches direct commissioning program for civilian cybersecurity experts

The Army has approved a program to recruit experienced cybersecurity experts directly into the service as cyber officers in an attempt to bolster a growing field that military leaders see as vital to national security.

U.S. Army Cyber Command will directly commission five civilians in the coming months, aiming to bring its first batch of officers into military training by February, said Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the Army’s Cyber Command chief. The pilot program, approved by the Pentagon and Congress, seeks to bring in five new officers each year for five years.

“It’s an ability for us to go after some of the most technical and adept talent out there that would like to serve our nation,” Nakasone told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon. “What we are looking for is someone who has experience, who has operated within cyberspace, who has the drive and the dedication … and has the inclination that they want to serve the nation.”

The candidates the Army is hoping to attract should have at least a bachelor’s degree and real-world experience in computer science or similar fields such as data science or industrial control systems, said Nakasone and Maj. Gen. Patricia Frost, the service’s cyber director for operations and planning. Candidates should be skilled in teamwork and innovative thinkers who are prepared to help the Army shape its defensive and offensive cyber operations for years.

“So it’s, what are you bringing that’s a new idea to gain us the advantage in the cyberspace domain?” Frost said.

Earlier this year, the Army began developing the pilot program based on other direct-commission programs for medical doctors, lawyers and chaplains, which place experts in those fields into the Army at a rank that is commensurate with their experience in the civilian workforce. However, at least initially, candidates chosen to directly commission into the service will start their Army career as second lieutenants. In other fields, the services have allowed direct commissions at ranks as high as colonel. Nakasone said that could change as the Army examines its processes during the pilot program.

Candidates seeking to apply to the program can do so on the Army’s recruiting website, goarmy.com. The requirements for consideration include U.S. citizenship, a four-year college degree, the ability to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance and the ability to meet Army physical fitness standards, Nakasone said. Applicants must be younger than 41 years of age.

Individuals selected for the pilot program will spend six weeks in the direct commission course at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and then attend the 12-week Cyber Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Gordon in Georgia. Most cyber officers will be stationed either at Fort Gordon or Fort Meade in Maryland, Nakasone said.

Direct commissioning will allow candidates chosen to forgo the Army’s 10-week Basic Combat Training Course, receive an expedited security clearance and expedited promotion to first lieutenant. It also guarantees placement as a cyber officer, whereas recruits who commission through other routes, such as Officer Candidate School or ROTC, cannot be guaranteed a slot within the cyber corps, Nakasone said.

The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy will offer similar pilot programs in the cyber field, officials said. The pilot programs all follow on former Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s 2016 commitment that the Pentagon would broaden its direct commission program, seeking to attract leaders with proven track records in the private sector, especially in fields – like cybersecurity – with a need for rapid improvement. Congress has given the Pentagon through 2020 to study the potential of expanding direct commissioning programs.

The Army is looking at incentives that it could offer people interested in the program, Nakasone said, but the biggest attraction for people interested should be uniformed service in a critical field.

“Every single day you’re going to go toe-to-toe with the best hackers in the world, and you are defending our nation,” he said. “Whether it’s against a nation-state or a non-nation-state actor or terrorists, if you want that opportunity come join us … to go against the best in the world, because you won’t do that necessarily in another place.”

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Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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