Westover Cyber Airmen awarded Army Medal at annual exercise

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Juan Doan
  • 439th Airlift Wing

Citizen Airmen from Westover honed critical skills during Exercise CYBER YANKEE 23, amplifying the Patriot Wing’s ability to win the ‘fight to get to the fight.’

Nearly 45 members from the 439th Communications Squadron, 439th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 439th Operational Support Squadron and the 439th Contingency Response Flight participated in the two-week event. This was the second year in a row Westover has competed in this exercise.

An advanced, graduate-level, joint cyber exercise sponsored by U.S. Army Cyber Command, the goal of CYBER YANKEE is to bring together military and private sector specialists to defend against attacks on critical infrastructure. In addition to Reserve Citizen Airmen, uniformed and civilian members of the Army National Guard and Reserve, Coast Guard and Marine Corps Reserve took part. Key participants also included ten utility companies, several technology companies, and numerous federal and state agencies.

The event is structured as a threat-hunting exercise where five military units (blue teams) come to the aid of five fictional utility companies (orange teams) under attack from seven foreign adversaries (red team). The exercise is held in a cyber range provided by USCYBERCOM’s Persistent Cyber Threat Emulation system but is maintained and supported by the exercise participants (range team).

Building on the foundation laid during the 2022 exercise, this year Airmen from the 439th CS enhanced their performance by using the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System air battle management structure to “operationalize” the cyber domain. They also used the Air Force’s F2T2EA kill chain to find, fix, track, target, engage and assess the enemy in the network. As a result, the unit improved to fourth place in the overall standings.

Lt. Col. Joshua Carroll, 439th OSS and a blue team mission commander lauded Westover’s performance, noting most of the other teams participating were in their ninth year of competition.

“(I) witnessed first-hand the tremendous skill and tradecraft that Westover’s cyber warriors bring to the fight. They are among the some of the most skilled Citizen Airmen I have come across,” Carrol said. A career intel officer, Carroll also said he keeps hearing how cyber is the war domain of the future. “After participating in CYBER YANKEE, I saw the relative ease with which the adversary could penetrate our networks and the difficulty in defending the network. I am convinced more than ever of the present danger and vulnerabilities of our interconnected systems and how we must operationalize the cyber domain.”

In addition to the team’s overall achievement, two Patriot Wing Citizen Airmen earned individual recognition for their advanced cyber skills. Senior Airmen Lucas Skawinski, 439th CS and Nathaniel Mickel, 439th AES were awarded the Army Achievement Medal by the exercise director. This is the second year in a row Westover members have earned this decoration.