The Navy's first Reserve cyber unit brings information warfare experts from a variety of backgrounds to help fight the nation's newest adversary.
When Justin Eitel joined the Navy Reserve in 2015, he came with years of Navy experience as a contractor working on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet initiative. In his new role as a cryptologic technician, Eitel found a new way to put his skills in managing the implementation of hardware to work — as a warfighter.
“I wanted to do the ‘cyber effects’ stuff,” recalls Eitel, now a cryptologic technician 1st class. “That’s when I looked into Reserve opportunities and saw it could get me right back where I wanted to be.”
Since graduating from CT “A” School, Eitel has witnessed the information warfare community’s rapid growth as others like him have stepped up to meet an ever-increasing demand for Reserve capacity in cyberspace. “When I first enlisted there were about 200 CTNs (Sailors in the cryptologic technician networks rating) in the Reserve,” he said. “Now it’s doubled to more than 400.”
Eitel recently witnessed another important evolution in the Navy’s Reserve cyber community, when he and 50 of his shipmates became the inaugural members of the Navy’s first Reserve cyber defense unit. The Cyber Defense Activity 64 Detachment 1 (NR CDA-64 Det 1) was commissioned with orders to defend Navy networks and improve overall network security by implementing preventative measures, as well as to respond to suspected cyber incidents.
"The Reserve [cyber] team is unique with its mixture of active duty, Reserve and civilian experience. The knowledge you learn from one is directly applicable to the other."
- Cryptologic Technician 1st Class Alicia Sutliff
Information Warfare community leaders inaugurated the new unit during a ceremony at Navy Operational Support Center Baltimore in March. “More than ever, we as a Navy need to leverage our Reservists’ skill sets to defend against advanced adversary cyber, cryptologic and electronic warfare capabilities,” said Rear Adm. James Butler, Deputy Commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, who presided over the inauguration ceremony. “As the first Reserve detachment for CDA-64, you are on the front lines of that mission.”
U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. Tenth Fleet, the Navy component of U.S. Cyber Command, mans, trains and equips 40 cyber teams supporting the Cyber Mission Force, the action arm of USCYBERCOM. These teams defend against cyber-attacks, conduct military cyber operations, defend the Department of Defense information networks, and provide analytic and planning support to combat missions.
The new Reserve unit supports the active duty CDA-64 command, which is one of six subordinate commands under Cryptologic Warfare Group SIX (CWG-6). Sailors in the Reserve unit like Eitel are assigned to specific teams, but are also trained to fill any active component manning gaps.
One of the first tasks given to Capt. Christopher Isakson, commanding officer of the Reserve CWG-6 unit, was to establish the manning levels of his workforce. The staff currently includes three officers and 48 enlisted Sailors, but Isakson says there is more work to be done.
“We’re executing national leadership’s strategy by establishing the first Reserve unit dedicated to a truly unified information warfare mission for CTN, IT (Information Systems Technician, and IS (Intelligence Specialist) ratings,” he said. “We anticipate additional Reserve units will be created in the near future around the country.”
Two of the primary responsibilities of the unit is to assess the security of networks and recommend changes, and to investigate and assess breaches of security when they occur.
“We don’t fix or change anything about the network,” said Cryptologic Technician 1st Class Alicia Sutliff, one of the Reserve Sailors on Isakson’s team. “Our job is to write up packages of recommendations to protect the network. If an intrusion has already happened we investigate who, what, when, where and how to further protect from future occurrences.”
Sutliff, who brings seven years of active duty cyber experience to the team, describes her units work as “parachuting experts in.” She explains that the Reserve team is unique with its mixture of active duty, Reserve and civilian experience. “The knowledge you learn from one is directly applicable to the other,” she said. “Based on the Navy and private sector experience the Sailors in this unit have, we can take on a new set of challenges as they come in. Maybe the active duty will have something they’re not familiar with, we might have the skills to solve the problem. They don’t have to outsource the issue.”
However, Lt. Cmdr. Trulea Craig, officer in charge of the unit, says the dynamic nature of cyber threats means training is an ongoing requirement. “This warfare domain is rapidly evolving and isn’t constrained by the laws of physics,” said Craig. “It’s a challenge to operate in an enduring conflict that will never go away.”
Ensuring CWG-6 Reservists have the full range of skills to effectively collaborate with the active side takes an enormous amount of training. Members of the new unit are required to complete a rigorous curriculum before they are operational, including an eight week long intermediate cyber course. The amount of training required is a reason Reserve Sailors assigned to the unit are issued five year orders instead of the usual three.
To Sutliff, the ongoing training requirement is a good thing. “We’re putting sailors in a position where they’re learning new things,” she said. “Active duty is comfortable picking up one of our Reserve Sailors because they know they can do the job.” Her advice to people thinking of joining? “Come willing to learn. There’s a lot of training, but once you get through that, the mission part is really fun.”
Sailors interested in learning more about joining the Reserve cyber warfare mission should contact Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org