Air Force Reserve Opens Groundbreaking Cyber Workforce Program
The U.S. Air Force Reserve announced a new direct commissioning effort designed to bring in cyber professionals from industry and enlisted ranks. The Cyber Direct Commission Program will add personnel to Reserve cyber warfare operations.
Air Force leaders introduced the program on November 15, with Brig. Gen. Terrence Adams, deputy principal cyber advisor to the Secretary of Defense and senior military advisor for Cyber Policy, speaking at the Aspen Institute’s Cyber Summit in New York, and Col. Timothy Maxwell, chief, Cyberspace Force Development Division, Headquarters U.S. Air Force and Col. Joy Kaczor, director, Cyber Operations and Warfighting Communications, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, presenting at AFCEA Alamo’s annual ACE conference in San Antonio, Texas. The Air Force already has an active-duty cyber direct commission effort that began in 2020, which the colonels also spoke about.
In addition, SIGNAL Media interviewed Air Force Reserve Col. Richard Erredge, mobilization assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (SAF/MR), at the Pentagon. SAF/MR has oversight of the groundbreaking program.
“I'm excited to announce the Air Force is rolling out a new direct commissioning program, the cyber direct commissioning program for our reservists,” Gen. Adams said. “You probably have heard this program direct commissioning used for JAGS lawyers, for nurses and doctors, but that authority had not been given for other professions. The United States Air Force has a direct commission program for our active duty but today we are announcing a program for our reservists. We are seeking to attract the best talent that's out there. ... And with our reserve programs, you get an opportunity to still maintain your employment, whatever company you work for, but simultaneously wear the uniform.”
For Col. Erredge, as the top senior policy advisor to the Air Force Reserve Commander Lt. Gen. John Healy, Vice Commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Pennington and senior reserve staff, the program represents a way to build a strong cyber force in a little different way than the Air Force’s cyber direct commissioning program.
“We [both] have this gap in expertise, not just in cyber, but also in those other career fields that are supporting cyber, including communications, information technology and intelligence,” Col. Erredge said. “They implemented this program a couple years ago because they saw a need as a pathway for their enlisted airmen primarily to have opportunities to grow as cyber officers and give them some credit for their education experience and certifications. Air Force reserve has taken a little different vision on this. We really want to use this authority to try to get industry experts that have tons of experience that want to serve in the Air Force Reserve or serve their country on a part-time basis and continue to have that really important industry job.”
The Reserve component had the same authority as the Air Force for the direct commissioning program but needed Congress to change wording in a law for the reserve leaders to be able to implement it.
This will be an opportunity for us to reach out into private organizations and into our military enlisted force to be able to offer something unique and different.
Anyone interested would have to have cyber experience or knowledge equivalent to the qualifications of Air Force Warfighter Communications Operators (17D) and Cyberspace Effects Operators (17S). In addition, cyberspace engineers and agile software developers that meet the standards for the Cyberspace Engineering “Z” prefix are eligible. Either way, candidates should have a quantifiable record of leadership, management or supervisory experience in academia, civilian and/or military organizations.
To be eligible for commission in the Air Force Reserves, candidates would also have to achieve physical standards, be a U.S. or naturalized citizen, and possess or be eligible for a top secret/sensitive compartmented information security clearance. Accepted candidates would start at Officer Training School (OTS).
“We feel like this is just another option for people to become a cyber officer and focus on cyber operations and cybersecurity and still serve their country in a way that works for their lifestyle,” Col. Erredge noted. “And it gives us an opportunity to target some really super smart, expert folks in industry that can bring in those skills that we don't have inherently in the Air Force Reserve that take a really long time to grow and mature.”
The flexibility of higher rank options and range of pay is key for Air Force Reserve to bring in industry and enlisted ranks to be additional cyber warriors, Gen. Adams said. “Members will be able to come in, depending on their background, expertise, the degree programs that they've been through, and start out, not as a first lieutenant or a second lieutenant, but they could come in as a captain immediately or as a major immediately or as a lieutenant colonel immediately,” the general noted.
“This program will allow the service to access cutting-edge talent and leverage private sector skills to make us more competitive in the changing world environment,” said Alex Wagner, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, in a statement.
Col. Erredge clarified that the direct commissioning program would not replace how they assess officers through ROTC, the Air Force Academy or regular OTS. “Those would still be the same commissioning sources,” he said. “This is just a way to go after some talent that we've not had access to in the past because our model said everybody starts as a second attendant that doesn't necessarily work for everybody.”
A review board will determine if candidates are eligible for constructive service credit for prior commissioned service, advanced education, and special training or experience. That constructive service credit is what is used to determine initial grade, rank and service for promotion eligibility. “The board would assess your education, experience and certifications and then place you based on criteria about where people fit,” Col. Erredge noted. “We want to be very specific on where we place you to take advantage of your experience and education. And [you are] gonna get opportunities to do jobs and a career path that are probably not the run of the mill standard career path.”
We feel like this is just another option for people to become a cyber officer and focus on cyber operations and cybersecurity and still serve their country in a way that works for their lifestyle.
The Air Force Reserve began with an initial pilot program of four reservists, some of whom are presently in officer training school and will graduate December 9. One individual, who is a CEO of a small business technology company and is also a reservist, will go from the rank of technical sargent to be an officer, a major, through the direct commissioning program.
The possible numbers for the next cohort are looking much higher, already with scores of interested candidates. “I’ve heard from the Bolling recruiting office last week that they already had 50 people,” said Col. Erredge. He also added that the military is working to modernize OTS, to reduce the required time for the training, and make the whole process much more attractive to candidates.
“We are looking at things in the future to reduce some of that time frame,” he said. “And Air University has just implemented this program called Victory OTS, where basically they modernized officer training school. People will either get waived or test out of certain blocks, to reduce that time frame and be more agile. For reservists, if we're pulling in somebody, such as a vice president from industry somewhere, are they going to have nine weeks that they can give for OTS. No. And do they need it? Probably not. And if they are enlisted airman and do they need to learn how to march again for two weeks? Probably not. We are trying to be smart with the use of their time as well, since time is money.”
The leaders noted that this is the first time Air Force Reserves has opened direct commissions to career fields other than lawyers, chaplains, doctors or other medical personnel. In addition to the Reserve’s program, the Air Force National Guard is currently assessing whether or not they will use the cyber direct commissioning authority, Col. Erredge shared.
Moreover, the Air Force is also considering the further expansion of the direct commission program to other Reserve and Guard career fields outside of cyber, to bring in additional needed personnel to the operations analyst, intelligence, security forces, chemist, nuclear chemist, physicists, nuclear physicists, developmental engineer and acquisition manager career fields.
“We want to be able to use this as a tool so that we can attract the talent that we need to serve our nation and for our nation's defense in unique ways,” Brig. Gen. Adams stated. “This will be an opportunity for us to reach out into private organizations and into our military enlisted force to be able to offer something unique and different.”
For more information on the Air Force Reserve's new Cyber Direct Commission program, visit: https://www.airforce.com/careers/specialty-careers/cyber-direct-commissioning