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Inspiring the next generation of cyber warriors

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A chance meeting with a former Junior ROTC instructor led Senior Airman Joshua Buchanan, 561st Network Operations Squadron standards and evaluations examiner, back to his former high school to mentor members of its CyberPatriot program.

CyberPatriot is a National Youth Cyber Education program. Teams of high school and middle school students compete in scenarios as information technology professionals managing the network of a small company. Teams must identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities, protect the network and maintain critical services during the event.

Buchanan was in the commissary at Peterson Air Force Base when he ran into one of his JROTC instructors from Mitchell High School, retired Lt. Col. Keith Woodfork. During their conversation Buchanan discovered the CyberPatriot program was available at the high school and expressed a desire to assist in some way.

“I said I wanted to help and we started from there,” he said.

He loves to tinker. Buchanan built his first computer when he was about seven years old. He learned some from his dad, who was part of what would eventually become the 561st NOS, but also picked up a lot on his own before joining the Air Force and going into the cyber career field. Ultimately he wants to commission as an engineer once he finishes his degree.

Buchanan is in his third year of volunteering with the group at Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs. He brought in several other volunteer mentors from the 561st NOS to help guide club members in the methods and techniques of doing battle with attackers in the world of cyberspace.

Working with the 20 or so students at Mitchell High School allows Buchanan and his fellow mentors an opportunity to help them get an idea about what the cybersecurity battle really looks like.

“The CyberPatriot competition is not just competing,” Buchanan said. “They can see how to use these skills if they choose to go into the field.”

Participants in the program gain a better understanding about computer and network vulnerabilities and how the systems work. They do not usually understand how vulnerable a computer is to attacks from a committed adversary, until experiencing program scenarios.
“They can see how people who are all the way across the globe try to access their computer,” he said.

If the students decide not to go into cybersecurity as a profession, the time spent learning and preparing for the CyberPatriot events will not be wasted. Buchanan said it opens their eyes to how important it is to properly lock down their systems. They will know how to use better account security and to create better, safer passwords, for example. Even from a non-vulnerability standpoint, he said the students are learning there is more to a system than Facebook and how to better navigate the systems they are using.

For his part, Buchanan gets to help people, something he enjoys. Even during his high school years Buchanan volunteered with organizations around Colorado Springs.

“I love it. I really enjoy helping them out,” he said. “It gives me a sense of accomplishment, a sense that I have helped someone somehow.”

Buchanan thinks it’s a great time to be involved in cyberspace, especially with all the changes taking place across the career field. He said mentoring the CyberPatriot team, building upon the skills of the more experienced group members and introducing new things to fresh members is going well.

He and his fellow mentors are passing on their experience to a new generation of cyber-warrior hopefuls, whether from real world events or things they have learned along the way in their educational pursuits. Through preparing for competitions like CyberPatriot and mentoring youth, the next generation is being groomed to meet the future demands of cyber defense.

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