DoD

Why a long military career in cyber feels like a rarity

U.S. Cyber Command’s top enlisted leaders said the military’s current career offerings hinders long term growth in building a potent cyber workforce.

The Department of Defense has long been public about the challenge of retaining its cyber workforce. MGySgt Scott Stalker, command senior enlisted leader of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, articulated those concerns in real terms Sept. 17.

“Retaining the talent, it is a challenge. In some ways, I get upset because I think we outcompete ourselves,” he said at the annual Air, Space, Cyber conference at National Harbor.

“The manpower, the mathematics - as I’ve done it - do not support long term growth in the cyber domain,” he said. “If you look at the day an individual leaves to the day someone reports in, cleared, fully trained and able to replicate the skillset that person has, it’s usually at the detriment of about 18 months.”

Stalker said the current model appears to invest more in contractors and corporations rather than the military.

“We say we can’t hire civilians or enlisted members, we can’t bring enough talent in so we create contractor spots that outbid us and then we bring in Joe, who a minute ago was a tech sergeant, and now he’s a contractor,” he said. “Think of it from a business perspective, hundreds of thousand of dollars, years you put into these individuals and what happens? They go on to be members of corporate America. In many ways we’re investing in corporations instead of our own people. We’ve got to look at how we can do this.”

He said both he and Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of the NSA and Cyber Command, are studying the issue. Nakasone is expected to discuss the issue with other four star generals and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Stalker said.

In the past, the services have taken personnel from the intelligence world and assigned them to cyber billets, only to see them cycle out after their initial tour. Some of the services are now taking a new approach to this.

The Army was the first service to stand up a cyber branch, designing a military career where soldiers can reside for much of their career.

The Marine Corps has taken note and is establishing a new career field for cyber, 17XX. It has been equated to the special operations world in which once in personnel don’t leave unless they actively seek a transfer or retire.

Prior to his confirmation to lead Cyber Command, Nakasone issued similar statements about the future of the cyber workforce.

“What we have looked at is, is there a career field out there for a tool developer that all he’s going to do for 20 years is develop these exquisite tools? We think there is,” he told Congress in March, when he was the leader of Army Cyber Command.

In July, in his first public remarks since taking command of Cyber Command, he said; “This is probably not going to be a force that’s going to be like myself that comes in and anticipates doing 20 years or 30 years and then has a nice retirement. This is a dynamic force that comes and goes.”

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