Capt. Mark Kester became the commanding officer of Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Virginia Beach just over a year ago and in that time has led his team through significant changes impacting the Information Warfare (IW) community.
IWTC Virginia Beach is one of four commands for the Center for Information Warfare Training (CIWT), a learning center for Naval Education and Training Command.
In July 2016, the name of the CIWT organization evolved from Center for Information Dominance (CID) to CIWT to emphasize a shift in thinking of IW as a critical capability of the Navy's mission sets. Kester's command, which has a long tradition of training in the intelligence community and grew along with the Information Dominance Corps, changed its name from CID Unit Hampton Roads to IWTC Virginia Beach.
The command's mission was also updated to providing a continuum of IW training to Navy and joint service personnel that prepares them to conduct IW across the full spectrum of military operations.
IWTC Virginia Beach currently offers 68 courses of instruction in information technology (IT), cryptology, and intelligence and trains over 5,200 students per year with an instructor and support staff of 239 military, civilian, and contract members at five training sites in the Hampton Roads area.
With his selection as the next chief of staff for Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), Capt. Kester is handing over command to Cmdr. Andrew Boyden during a ceremony, Dec. 1.
Capt. Kester took some time to answer questions from the CIWT public affairs office and reflect on the important changes IWTC Virginia Beach has gone through over the past year.
Q: What has the evolution from the Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center (NMITC) to what is today IWTC Virginia Beach meant for training the Information Warfare community (IWC)?
A: As IWTC Virginia Beach emerges from the merger a couple years ago of multiple learning sites with NMITC, we are starting to see what I like to call “small wins” of “integrating” the IWC elements within the command. We have been able to move some traditional cryptologic community training inside Layton Hall, which has historically been the home of Navy and Marine Corps intelligence training. With such a move, we have been able to increase the number of cryptologic professionals supporting the Afloat Information Warfare Team Trainer, increasing the number of mentors we can offer an afloat team.
Additionally, I have asked the intelligence professionals on the staff to look at the cryptologic curriculum and update sections that contain intelligence-related material. I’ve also asked the intelligence professionals on staff to look at some of the cryptologic technician (technical) (CTT), now Navy Occupational Specialty B550, courses we teach and see how an intelligence professional can benefit from these courses, specifically in better understanding the electromagnetic spectrum.
Having all IWC meet and interact as students through a variety of courses as well as being taught by instructors of all IWC components will help in solidifying their relationships in the fleet as the IWC.
Obviously the jury is still out on whether the “small wins” will be noteworthy results, but it is a step in the right direction. It also helps break down the walls between the specialties of the IWC and build unit cohesion.
Q: In October 2016, IWTC Virginia Beach launched the initial Information Professional (IP) Basic Course. What does the course consist of and what are the expected outcomes?
A: We are currently running the pilot class for the 20-week IP Basic Course (IPBC). As with all other courses, when a schoolhouse runs a pilot, instructors assess the course material and make adjustments where it is practical. To make sure we got our assessment of the pilot right, we hosted a working group consisting of IWTC Virginia Beach staff to include a couple of the new IPBC instructors, and NAVIFOR and CIWT IP’s. The results of the working group are still being analyzed, but what I can tell you is that the 20-week IPBC will consist of three phases:
- Phase 1: Introduction to IP Fundamentals (networks, cyber security, communications, Electronic Key Management System [EKMS]/Key Management Infrastructure [KMI])
- Phase 2: C5I (command, control, communications, computers, combat systems and intelligence) Applications (Cyber Security Inspection and Certification Program [CSICP] elements, spectrum management, expeditionary operations, messaging systems, combat systems, Indications & Warning [I&W], Automated Digital Network System [ADNS], Video Teleconferencing [VTC], Defense Red Switch Network [DRSN])
- Phase 3: Operational Applications within the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) Framework
What I think one can’t capture in listing the course curriculum is the environment we are creating at IWTC Virginia Beach for the IPBC students. With our location near several key IP/IWC commands, we can easily bring in guest lecturers from commands like Naval Network Warfare Command, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic, Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC), the afloat N6s, as well as a host of others out doing the job of an IP. This model has worked well with the Naval Intelligence Officer Basic Course (NIOBC), which we’ve been running here now for 30 years. Additionally, we are relocating a couple of IT courses to classrooms near the IP Basic classrooms in Raborn Hall. The goal is to have IP officers near the Sailors they will be partnering with and leading in the fleet.
Q: What is new with the Information Warfare Officer Milestone and Department Head Course (IWOMDHC) and Information Warfare Basic Course (IWBC)?
A: For the mid-career course, we have moved away from the seminar-only format to a curriculum focused on leadership as well as IWC professional development. We do a fair bit of work for each class making sure our guest lecturers give us balance across the IWC specialties as well as the IWC Reserve component. We have also introduced visits to local IWC commands, which has yielded a lot of positive feedback, especially when one sees the type of work commands like NCDOC are doing 365 days a year.
As part of our professional development, we have a detailed discussion on fitness reports (FITREPs) and evaluations (EVALs) and the board process. Because promotion opportunities have become more and more competitive in the Navy, it is critical IWC officers understand how to properly write FITREPs/EVALs for their subordinates and how it impacts a selection board. Starting with our next class in December, we will be taking the board process training to the next level, giving students practicals on how to mark up records. This should help prepare officers when it is their turn to serve on a board.
In regards to the IWBC, the biggest change we’ve made is working with the IWC community detailers and placement officers on integrating the classes — having officers from each of the four specialties in each class. This was at the direction of Vice Adm. Branch, former OPNAV N2N6, who believed it was critical we start integrating the IWC specialties on day one, at IWBC. We can accomplish this for most classes throughout the year, though meteorology and oceanography (METOC) has far less throughput than the other three specialties. By integrating the classes, we are allowing the students to build relationships with other IWC specialties, someone to call when one has a question about another part of the IWC. It also helps drive discussion in the class because four different interests are represented in each class.
What I can say that applies to both the basic and mid-career course is that the quality of the course is dependent on three factors:
- Course material
I emphasize number three because I believe that students will learn a lot from one another, whether it is discussion during class, on break or after hours.
Q:Your command has been graduating intelligence officers from NIOBC since 1986. How has that training evolved?
A: IWTC Virginia Beach is the home of naval intelligence training. We have been pushing intelligence officers and intelligence specialists out the front door of Layton Hall, trained and ready for the fleet, since 1986. So, what has changed since 1986? The enemy has changed over the last 30 years.
With that, so does our course material. For example, we now spend some time on the cyber domain and what intelligence can provide to those conducting cyber operations. The course is still focused on the fundamentals of being an intelligence officer - understanding the enemy and operational intelligence (OPINTEL). The biggest change we really have had recently with NIOBC is structuring the course where it now culminates with the OPINTEL block, to include introducing students to some of the IT systems used in the fleet and at Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs)/Maritime Intelligence Operation Centers (MIOCs) to conduct OPINTEL. We’ve seen a very positive response from our students on building toward and culminating with OPINTEL, which in my opinion is the key skillset for naval intelligence officers.
While NIOBC is focused on building intelligence officers with a deep understanding of the enemy and an ability to conduct OPINTEL in any environment, one area we emphasize is leadership. Naval intelligence professionals are leading across the fleet and in joint operations, exceling as leaders of Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Civilian intelligence professionals. In emphasizing the importance of leadership, IWTC Virginia Beach, in coordination with the naval intelligence community, established a new NIOBC graduation award this past summer honoring one of naval intelligence's most renowned and influential leaders upon his retirement, Rear Adm. Paul Becker. The award is named after Rear Adm. Becker's decade’s long emphasis on his pillars of leadership — "Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity."
Unlike other awards for our graduates, the “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity” award winner is selected by his or her classmates. In this regard, it's unique in emphasizing pure leadership as recognized by one's peers, a hallmark of Rear Adm. Becker's focus since he began documenting these "Three T's" in his “Gold Standard” brochures more than ten years ago. The clarity and consistency of Becker's leadership message connected with hundreds of intelligence professionals with whom he served while director of intelligence in Bahrain, Tampa, Afghanistan, Hawaii and Washington, D.C.
Q: What are your parting thoughts as you leave IWTC Virginia Beach?
A: I’m excited about the future, where we continue to train on the individual level as well as continue to integrate the community. In 2017 we will have officer students who will start together, sitting side by side, break off for their core curriculum and then come together again to graduate and step out to the fleet.
As I think back on this past year, what we started here to integrate the community took a tremendous effort. With over 600 students on board for training on any given day, the staff here takes great pride in their work and has a passion for the training mission. It is a total team effort. My N6 team is as critical as the instructors on podium because almost everything we do involves needing some form of IT support - accounts and workstations for staff, students; SIPR tokens to increase the learning experience for students. At the same time, my N6 team is upgrading our IT infrastructure to increase our information assurance posture.
What has impressed me the most is the initiative I’ve seen across the staff regardless of where a Sailor or civilian works. If course material can be improved, the staff works hard and at times creatively to update curriculum. I don’t think many outside the training mission realize the scrutiny instructors take, constantly being critiqued. The staff wants to do their best and clearly understands our graduates will be operational in the very near future, conducting Information Warfare in support of naval and joint forces.