Cyber Defense Review

Recruiting Cyber Warriors: Let’s Not Rush to Failure

By LTC Paul Maxwell | July 02, 2015

I have sat through many briefings and discussions on how the Army is short of Cyber warriors and how it will take extraordinary incentives and methods to fill the ranks. There are committees studying this issue and lots of discussion occurring. All of it is well intentioned and motivated by the perception of being behind schedule. However, I think some tactical patience is required and a pause taken to think critically about this issue before we make hasty decisions we may regret.

One way to view the problem is to break it into two issues. The first issue is filling the cyber force quickly to get Soldiers and civilians into the current fight. The second issue is the long term recruiting and retention of cyber warriors. The first problem is immediate and no amount of theorizing and planning will make it go away more rapidly. Personnel will be thrust into the gap and hastily trained using adhoc methods yet the line will hold until the cavalry arrives. The second problem is no less difficult but has longer lasting impact and therefore requires more study and detailed analysis. To use a maneuver analogy, waiting for the smoke screen to build before charging into the breach is almost always a prudent choice.

A central point made by many in the recruiting/retention discussion regarding the second issue is that there are not enough Soldiers and civilians in the Army with the requisite training and knowledge to fill the force. This point is then used to justify the use of extreme recruiting methods such as lowering physical standards and modifying appearance regulations. Though the point about personnel shortages is valid, it ignores the fact that it is simply a result of the Army not dedicating resources to build this type of warrior prior to now. We are expecting a chicken when no egg has been laid! Those proposing modifying the standards are making an assumption that the Army is not capable of building the recruiting and training pipeline necessary to maintain the cyber force. That seems unlikely given that we are the most well-resourced military in the world. Targeted advertising and recruiting is likely to find the 3000+ cyber warriors the Army requires. Certainly there will be a lag between inception and full operational capability, but isn’t maintaining a well-disciplined, fit fighting force worth that wait? If we accept a lower standard, how will that be dealt with when promotion boards or SERBs/RIFs occur? Are those falling under the Army’s traditional standards not going to be at risk? For certain, they will not be competitive in the general Army population. So, do we mean to place Cyber warriors completely in their own categories for all personnel matters? It seems clear to me that having lower standards will not in the long run help the professional advancement of our Cyber force when competing for Army leadership positions.

Another recurring theme by some trying to solve this issue is that this is a new problem. It is implied that nothing like this has happened before and there are no models we can learn from to help solve this problem. I suggest that this is not the case. Cyber warfare requires intelligent, well-trained Soldiers and civilians. I would argue that other portions of our military have a similar challenge and have solved it a long time ago. Career fields such as doctors, lawyers, chaplains, and pilots all require a specialized knowledge base that is well above the Army average. They each have managed to develop a recruiting and retention model that meets the Army’s needs. I believe that Cyber can adopt a model that borrows from their example. We do not need to invent something new.

The professional career fields mentioned previously offer us some insights into how we may proceed. They have different training and accession models for their personnel. The floor for the lower ranks of the careers is different, for example, warrants are the lowest ranked aviators. Maybe Cyber Soldiers will look similar to aviators. A common worry in the fledging cyber force is retaining talent. Those discussing it worry that we will lose the “good” talent to the commercial sector. That will be true in some cases. The medical, legal, and aviation fields have ways to retain their Soldiers who face the same brain drain that is predicted for the Cyber branch. They offer programs such as professional pay and training opportunities to mitigate the losses. Admittedly, some of the best will be lost despite our best efforts. Keeping all of the best should not be our goal. This thinking presupposes that a “good” Cyber unit leader needs to be among the best at the technical level. That is not always the case. The best technician is not necessarily the best leader. Is it required that the best pilot become the Aviation brigade commander? If so, our aviation units would not be the dominating force that they are currently. We should avoid falling into a pattern of thinking that everyone in Cyber needs to be the best in the domain.
In the end, some reflection and deep thinking is needed. This isn’t a new problem and there are examples that we can borrow from to help solve the challenge. Cyber can also help itself by not alienating the rest of the Army. The constant refrain is that cyber is “special.” Self-designating in this manner only results in others developing a negative view of our force. I believe that we will be best served by not being “special” but instead merely being “different.” Being a part of the team means not being separate from the rest.



US Army Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. Army reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The Army and the Army alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the Army, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying Army endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

Army does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Army may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. Army does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Army or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.