Recently, 10 U.S. Naval Academy Cyber Science Majors had the opportunity to travel to various countries throughout Europe as part of a sweeping Faculty-Led Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (LREC) trip that is funded through generous donations to the USNA Cyber Center. During their time in Europe, the Midshipmen were joined at various points along the way by a group of Cadets from the U.S. Military Academy who are also focusing on cyber security law and policy.
The trip centered on the Midshipmen attending the 11th annual NATO International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon) in Tallinn, Estonia. Organized by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), the conference focuses on the current and critical issues in cyber by bringing together the key decision-makers and cyber experts representing government, military, academia and the private sector. The Midshipmen were able to hear from some of the world’s foremost leaders and experts on cyber policy and law.
Estonia provides the perfect backdrop for the conference, as the country suffered several days of coordinated cyber-attacks in 2007, mostly attributed to Russian-backed hackers angered at the Estonian government’s decision to relocate a controversial memorial dedicated to the Soviet “Liberators of Estonia” after World War II. Also, Tallinn contains one of the best-preserved Old Towns in Europe, which the Midshipmen enjoyed exploring in the evenings.
Following the conference in Estonia, the group traveled to Krakow, Poland to attend CONFidence, a more technically oriented conference being held at the Polish Aviation Museum. While in Krakow, the group had the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in nearby Oswiecim.
While the conference gave the Midshipmen an opportunity to explore hands on coding and hacking techniques, the visit to Auschwitz provided a more sobering moment on the trip, as they were reminded of the unspeakable horrors of a government gone mad. The conference gave the Midshipmen an opportunity to explore hands on coding and hacking techniques, the visit to Auschwitz provided a more sobering moment on the trip, as they were reminded of the unspeakable horrors of a government gone mad.
Wrapping up their time in Poland, the group transitioned to Munich, Germany to visit the Bundeswehr University, one of two military academies in Germany, to learn more about their programs and research in cyber. During the visit, the Midshipmen were briefed on the school’s academics and were provided a live demonstration of a researcher compromising a computer system. In their free time, the group had the opportunity to explore the Parnach Gorge in Garmisch, and even spend a day glacier skiing in Austria.
The final component of the trip was a visit to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (GCMC) in Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps, where the group attended several talks on current European security issues, most notably the tenuous and ongoing situation between Russia and Ukraine. These sessions included insightful back-and-forth discussions between the speakers and members of the audience, often senior leaders from the respective countries being discussed.
The group’s visit to the Marshall Center wrapped up with a cyber-centric group activity wherein the students were broken into groups to address key issues in cyber security that they might face one day in their future leadership roles.
“My favorite part of the trip was in Garmisch, where we got to listen to the seminar at the GCMC with representatives from all around the world, then walked through the old town to a traditional Bavarian restaurant for dinner," said MIDN 3/C Dylan Larkin. "I never thought that I'd be given the opportunity to become immersed in such different cultures. I loved the ability to experience new countries both professionally and personally, and most importantly, I learned how important it is to create international partnerships.
In addition to the primary stops on the trip for conferences and official visits, the group had the opportunity to experience the cultures of several other countries while in transit: a one night stop in Stockholm that included a visit to the Vasa, a 17th-century ship that sank in Stockholm’s harbor on her maiden voyage and was preserved largely intact until raised in 1961, as well as a brief layover in Prague, where the group visited the Museum of Communism and enjoyed the charms of Old Town Prague.
"This LREC allowed me to gain invaluable experiences that really helped to widen my horizons," said MIDN 2/C Tyler Kim. "I loved being able to see how other countries operate differently from us and taking those experiences back with us to the States. The LREC really made us push past our comfort zones as we navigated foreign countries and their different languages and customs."