Soldiers with the Wisconsin National Guard’s Detachment 1, 176th Cyber Protection Team have made tremendous strides during the unit’s first federal deployment to Fort Meade, Maryland conducting cyberspace operations in support of U.S. Cyber Command and Cyber National Mission Force requirements.
“We are operating in a very complex landscape that changes day to day,” said 1st Lt. David Schroeder, a cyber defense manager with the detachment. “Every day, the cyber environment presents us with new challenges, and our job on the Task Force is to find solutions and overcome these challenges.”
Many of the Soldiers in the approximately 20-person detachment are experts in cybersecurity or information technology in their civilian careers, bringing a wealth of knowledge into their current mission. The unit consists mainly of IT professionals who focus on cybersecurity, intelligence, law enforcement and business leadership at companies such as American Family Insurance, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the city of Madison, Rockwell Automation, Oshkosh Defense, LLC, Northrop Grunman, the Boeing Company, Protocol 46, Artful Home, and the Wisconsin National Guard.
“This is one of the areas where the Army National Guard really shines, enabling Soldiers to bring their unique skills and expertise to bear on national priorities,” Schroeder said.
He added that many of the Soldiers supporting this mission are working with cutting-edge technologies and have completed additional courses and certifications to support this mission and will come back to Wisconsin with highly relevant operational knowledge.
Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Gilane, a senior cyber operations noncommissioned officer with the detachment, agreed, stating that Soldiers in the detachment have excelled at their duties and perform at a high standard far about their current rank. Members of the detachment have shown great passion for the cybersecurity field and take pride in the mission and their successes.
“The attitude of the overall team I believe is where it really shines,” Gilane said. “Everyone in the team as a whole has always possessed a ‘can do’ attitude with a willingness to spend whatever time and effort necessary to get the mission completed. This has led to Wisconsin really ‘setting the standard’ for performance during the mission.”
Even while serving on a stateside mission, members of the detachment have faced challenges typical of any other mobilization.
“We are technically in the U.S., but still have some of the same restrictions of a standard mobilization,” Gilane said. “So to our families back home, we appear to be more readily available to communicate, but due to operations tempo and security restrictions, we are not as available as we appear. COVID has also been a serious challenge.”
The detachment initially mobilized into federal service in October 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of their mission requires Soldiers to be present, in person, in secure facilities.
“Navigating a dynamic COVID environment throughout this mobilization has been a challenge, but we continue to remain safe and ready to respond,” said Maj. Jamison Clark, commander of the detachment. Members of the detachment were among the first group of service members able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021, mitigating health risks and allowing them to be more effective at their mission.
Despite challenges, morale within the unit remains high, and the Soldiers feel fortunate that being stateside allows for opportunities to visit with families and loved ones.
Each Guardsman has grown as a person and a Soldier during this mission, making them invaluable assets and expanding the detachments capabilities in support of both the state and nation.
“Our mobilization has significantly increased the ability of Wisconsin cyber defenders to quickly identify, respond and restore critical infrastructure and key resources in the event of a cyber attack,” Clark said.
The unit’s mobilization is its first since it formed in 2017.