FORT GORDON, Ga. -- You'd think that making the jump from enlisted Marine Corps signals intelligence (SIGINT) specialist to serving as an Army cyber warrant officer would be a pretty complicated process that involves more than a few flaming hoops, but Chief Warrant Officer 4 Raul Negron Jr. makes it sound almost routine.
In fact Negron not only made that leap, he ultimately jumped into the role of proponent, and helps to recruit Army cyber warrant officers and guide their careers.
Negron, a native of Tampa, Florida, says he became interested in being an Army warrant officer during his second assignment as a Marine. That tour was his first exposure to warrants, and he was intrigued by the fact that they served as the leading technical experts in their fields. But in a pretty astute conclusion for an ambitious young Marine, he says he recognized that he wasn't quite ready for that move at that time.
"I recognized that I was still too junior, and I had a lot more to learn before I was ready for that," he said. "I didn't want to be a technical expert if I still needed to learn a lot more."
But Negron stayed focused on his goal, and when he felt he was ready he applied for a service transfer to join the Army's ranks as a warrant officer. He was returning from deployment in 2005, he said, a Marine staff sergeant with seven and a half years in the Corps, when he learned that his request had been approved.
It sounds like a rare occurrence, but Negron said that while it's not widely advertised, there are quite a few Army warrant officers who transferred from other services.
The next jump was from SIGINT to cyber. Negron said it really wasn't that much of a stretch, since cyber grew from signal and military intelligence. And it had been his first interest. He had earned a bachelor's degree in computer science and was pursuing his master's degree. So when he was offered the opportunity to help build the brand-new Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER) in 2010, it "lined up perfectly" with his goals and he jumped at the chance.
"It just happened to be that I had the right degree, the opportunity presented itself, and I was in my PCS (permanent change of station) window. And I guess timing is everything," he said.
At the time Negron was still a SIGINT warrant officer. He says the Military Occupational Specialty for cyber warrant officers — 170A, Cyber Operations Technician — didn't even exist. But building ARCYBER required people with technical expertise.
"It was something new that no one really knew (and when) I got to Army Cyber Command in 2010, it was mostly about organizing the command, (developing) authorities and things of that nature. I did start doing technical stuff eventually, because the organization was so new, and you had to figure out who was supposed to be doing what," he said.
A few years later, he says, when the 170A MOS was created to establish cyber technical expert positions and the first call went out for interested Army warrant officers to transfer into the field via the Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program, he again jumped at the chance. Eventually his experience and drive earned him his job as the Army's 170A proponent, a role that keeps him busy making recruiting trips, talking with noncommissioned officers in all services about being an Army cyber warrant officer, and developing and facilitating training, career paths and retention programs for cyber warrants.
Negron clearly likes what he does, and clearly believes in the opportunities and satisfaction the cyber warrant officer profession has in store for anyone who wants to pursue — and remain in — a technical career path.
"The selling point I give to the NCOs that I brief, whether it's Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force, is that there's only one place that you can remain technical in cyber for an entire career. And that's with us, in the Army. As an Army cyber warrant officer. We are the only MOS, the only service that can offer that," he says. "Our warrant officers … are very technical. We are hands on keyboard. We want you to ... remain technical for an entire career. That is how we built the MOS and have set up the MOS."
"In the Army, typically you make E7 (the rank of sergeant first class), and what do we do? Probably make you a platoon sergeant," he adds. "That's kind of the rule, if you will. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's a vital function. We need that. But there are some guys and gals that want to remain hands on keyboard. And so those are the folks that we recruit, because they want to remain on a keyboard for an entire career."
But Negron stresses that being on a keyboard and being a cyber technical expert is a challenge, not a vacation.
"Things are changing fast and are changing every day. We're very busy. This really isn't going to be a career where you join and you get to kick back and relax. You are going to be busy," he says.
For information on the Army's cyber warrant officer program, visit:
-- GoArmy.com: www.goarmy.com/army-cyber/army-cyber-training.html
-- U.S. Army Recruiting Command: www.usarec.army.mil/hq/warrant/prerequ/WO170A.shtml
-- U.S. Army Human Resources Command (CAC access): www.hrc.army.mil/content/WelcometoHRCCyberBranchAssignmentManagement