FORT MEADE, Md. —
Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott H. Stalker is a trailblazer as the senior enlisted leader of U.S. Cyber Command. The command was part of U.S. Strategic Command before becoming the nation’s first new combatant command since 2007.
The command encompasses the digital world of 1s and 0s, but the effects of this computer-driven universe is felt in the real world. Just as there are amazing benefits and capabilities from the cyber world, there are incredible dangers that enemies can exploit.
The new combatant command is tasked to direct “the operations and defense of specified Defense Department information networks and prepare to, and when directed, conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure U.S./allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”
Cyber: New Warfighting Domain
Cyber is a new warfighting domain, Stalker said. “It’s a challenge we are looking to get after,” he said in a recent interview. “When you turn on the TV nowadays, you really can’t turn on the news and not hear about cyber — whether it’s our elections or privacy issues. It’s in everything and it’s going to grow as it evolves.”
The senior enlisted leader talks about the internet of things, and what that will mean. “When your household goods start ordering things for you that will be delivered by a robot drone, it will change our relationships,” he said. “This is not far off.”
Stalker’s background is in military intelligence and he spent 25 years deploying from one trouble spot to another. “I grew up deploying,” he said. “[I have] a lot of tactical level deployments with the Marine expeditionary units — infantry battalions and regiments. I gained that ground footing first, which I think is important.”
This experience still serves him in good stead. “Having the background in infantry and special operations … understanding the tradecraft first, understanding the collection assets we have and then bringing that expertise together with a leadership and warfighting mindset is what I bring,” he said.
At the National Security Agency and Cybercom there are military members and civilians who work long hours and understand the need for good, actionable intelligence and why it is important to safeguard America’s secrets.
“There is no substitute for work ethic, and in a place like the National Security Agency — a place where we have the most mathematicians and over 700 Ph.D.s — rarely are you going to walk into a room and be the smartest person,” he said.
“The perception is that we have a bunch of geeks,” Stalker continued. “But we are a military organization. Culture and the warfighting mindset are important. It is engrained in who we are as a military.”
Previous Service at DIA
Stalker previously served as the senior enlisted leader at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“At DIA, the first thing I had to do was get the senior leadership — which is heavily civilian — to understand my role and to buy into it,” he said. “That takes time, that takes engagement and that takes interaction. Then, they have to see results from my side to help make the agency better.”
Stalker said his experience at DIA prepared him for the position at NSA and Cybercom. “I was able to understand the dynamics of working with Senior Executive Service civilians, with junior civilians who may not have any military experience — I think that helped me a lot,” he said.
Outreach is also a part of Stalker’s job. It is important for fellow warfighting commands to consider and incorporate the cyber realm in all aspects of planning.
“Cyber is not first nature,” he said. “How do we inculcate this, and inject cyber into discussions at the small unit level. [We] need it in development courses and professional military education. As planners are talking about warfighting, they are not just thinking air, land and sea. They are incorporating cyber in all other domains. Otherwise, it will be, ‘We’ve planned this mission out. Now can we get some cyber?’ It’s too late then.
“We talk of the whole-of-government approach,” Stalker continued. “We’ve got to have a whole-of-warfighting approach, too.”
The tech world is hot right now, he said. But DoD has no problem recruiting qualified people to serve in the cyber realm.
“The challenge in this field is retaining the talent,” Stalker said. “Keeping them once they are trained is the problem.”
Looking to the future, Stalker really has no idea where the technology will go. But the command, he said, will continue to invest in the human domain and continue to recruit and train the best-qualified people.
“So long as we are educating our folks and preparing them, I think we’ll be ready for the future,” Stalker said “Technology is going to change — we know that. But if we get the people part right, we’ll be all right.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)