FORT DERUSSY, Hawaii —
Three Airmen received Medals of Excellence May 14, at Fort DeRussy for making major improvements to the Hawaii National Guard’s cyber response capabilities.
The small team of cyber analysts and operators were handpicked to create one of the nation’s first cyber mission assurance teams. This specialized mission assurance force supports critical infrastructure networks within the community.
Hawaii was one of three states to take the National Initiative under a National Guard Bureau pilot program, which ran from October 2018 through March 2020, with participation from the Washington National Guard and Ohio.
“The Hawaii National Guard is well known for its ability to respond to any national disaster that comes our way,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Elijah Lincoln, Mission Assurance Team Commander. Cyber, “We do it for Big Island lava flows, we do it for hurricanes, and we do it for COVID. But on the cyber side, that’s where we had to ask ourselves, ‘What should we do if someone came out of nowhere and shut down critical infrastructure?You need to have an answer, and that’s why we’ve built this response team over the years.
The 10-person CMAT, comprised of HIANG Airmen from the 298th Support Squadron and 201st Combat Operations Squadron, and soldiers from the Hawaii National Guard, volunteered to participate in this joint initiative under the operational control of the Hawaii National Guard Joint Staff. The multi-service environment served as a hub of collaboration where members could showcase their unique cyber skills and determine new ways to merge their capabilities with other government and civilian networks.
At first glance, the CMAT workspace looks like a bunch of hackers in a Hollywood movie. But ironically, their main goal is simply to deprive hackers of any opportunity to cause digital harm. Technicians can be seen sipping caffeinated beverages, scrolling through computer screens splattered with digital traffic, and occasionally exclaiming the clichéd, but satisfying, slogan, “I’ve got them.”
As networking systems have become widely used in the digital age, everyday service entities such as schools, hospitals, police departments and private services are exposed to new forms of cyber threats. The possibility of an unexpected network breach can cause operations to stop or sensitive data to be exploited.
As a preventive force, Lincoln’s team spent their time at CMAT studying local area network systems and familiarizing themselves with key personnel, policies, and equipment from outside agencies. Members of his team, Staff Sgt. Marc Masuno and Staff Sgt. Isaac McMillan, were among the first guards to develop standard operating procedures that members could immediately reference and apply the skills needed to prevent or mitigate cyberattacks.
“When this all started, we were fortunate to have a base of expertise between the Air and Army staffs,” said Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi Jr., commander of the Hawaii National Guard. “But at the same time, we had limited knowledge of exactly what we can and cannot do, and how we can communicate most effectively with other agencies. That was a lot to ask of Captain Lincoln and his team, but they did an outstanding job of navigating through this uncharted territory and laid the foundation we needed to protect our critical infrastructure.
The CMAT team has made groundbreaking strides in establishing networking capabilities with external agencies, beginning with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and later providing investigative services for the Department of Transport, including local airports and ports.
Some of the skills and practices they have developed are distributed to Hawaii National Guard international allies through the State Partnership Program. During an exchange with the Indonesian Armed Forces in Jakarta, the Joint Staff demonstrated some of CMAT’s network security advancements to build bilateral capabilities.
As the national CMAT pilot program officially ended in 2020, Kaoiwi said the program’s developments were far too valuable to abandon. Since then, Airmen and Soldiers have participated in organic cyber training exercises to help maintain their networking skills and continue to develop their skills alongside partners, including a cyber training activity that is expected to be held more later alongside National Guardsmen from Arizona, California, and Nevada. this month.