FORT MEADE, Md.—The Army’s most elite cyber operations unit has requested a blanket exemption from conducting mandatory online training, according to several sources familiar with the matter.
The 708th Cyber Brigade, colocated with U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, is tasked with integrating and conducting cyberspace operations that maintain the Army’s freedom of action in the global information environment. Its soldiers are elite cyber warriors, with skills comparable to the world’s top hackers.
“If I try to make junior cyber soldiers do online training, they will just write a script that clicks through it for them and Googles the answers to all the tests,” Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Krog told reporters. “Soldiers get zero development value out of that. Eventually, you will get a a noncommissioned officer who has never completed his structured self-development courses and doesn’t know how to lead,” said Krog, referring to the mandatory online classes soldiers must complete before they can be promoted.
In addition to fighting adversaries in the cyber domain, the Army increasingly relies on cyber tools to prepare its soldiers for war. Although the most important training, such as sexual assault prevention and equal opportunity awareness, is still primarily conducted “where you can reach out and touch someone,” secondary, warfighting-focused is conducted online. This includes antiterrorism operations, infantry combat, combined arms operations, and survival, escape, resistance and evasion in case soldiers are captured by the enemy—known as SERE. Online leadership training is also mandatory for promotion to most enlisted grades.
“Frankly, I’m disappointed by the fact that young soldiers would rather develop automated cyber tools than perform their online information assurance training to standard,” said Col. James Vile, the brigade’s commander. “It shows just how jacked up the priorities of the young people coming into the service today are.”
Staff officers in the unit noted soldiers have other ways to avoid online training.
“When we try do an online training stand down, I average one notification of a configuration error in our NIPRNet every 80 seconds,” said Capt. Mark Hauptman, a signal officer in the brigade. “We call it the ‘trouble ticket DDoS.’ And we typically have to shut down the network within 20 minutes. So much for training.”
Krog said the unit is examining innovative ways to replace online training. “One of the things we were thinking about was just having sergeants training the privates in person, but we aren’t sure they’re really prepared to do that,” he noted. “We’re developing an online ‘train the trainers’ course to get them up to speed.”