Cadets from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Detachment 370 received career advice and an overview of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) during their visit to the combat support agency’s headquarters on Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, March 20.
More than 20 cadets got a unique opportunity to see how DISA helps the Air Force achieve its mission to fly, fight, and win in air, space, and particularly in cyberspace.
DISA Vice Director Air Force Maj. Gen. Sarah E. Zabel welcomed the cadets and their chaperones: Air Force Maj. Bradley Podliska and Air Force Capt. Codi Carron, before opening a discussion about the importance of cybersecurity.
“Cyber [security] is something that affects everyone,” said Zabel. “Every single system we have, every mission that the Air Force does — that any service does — cyber is absolutely key to it.”
“We have to continue to come up with new ideas, new approaches, and be linked with industry to understand the best way for fighting the adversary that continues to [upgrade] their own capabilities. It is a constantly changing battlefield, it needs active minds and imaginations for dealing with the changes,” she said.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Karrie Lang, chief of current operations in the DISA Command Center, provided a snapshot of current operations on a typical day at DISA.
Marine Corps Capt. Eric Anderson, an information systems engineer, and computer scientists Denise Blady and Julian Breyer provided the cadets with a briefing that addressed DISA’s cyber defense programs and initiatives.
Air Force CMSgt William Martin, senior enlisted leader of DISA’s Operations Center and a second-generation airman with 29 years of service, addressed the cadets’ questions and offered advice on the importance of maintaining relationships with their peers and the immediate expectations the Air Force will place on them after they are commissioned as officers.
“You’re learning a lot now and we’re going to ask you to learn a lot more as you get out into the workforce. You’re going to be asked to do more and more so don’t think once you’ve graduated you can take a [sigh of relief] and say, ‘Ahhh, I’m done with school.’ No, we’re going to expect more from you. It is a very competitive environment,” he said.
“When you go out into your individual units, it’s very important that you start off with very high standards for your workforce,” Martin told the future officers. “It’s very important that you’re visible to your workforce. It’s important that you challenge and develop your workforce.”
Following the briefings and roundtable discussion, Cadet Fourth Class Alexander Jensen, a freshman majoring in chemical engineering, reflected on how amazed he was at the scope of cyber operations carried out by DISA, which is comprised of 15,000 civilian, military, and contract employees distributed throughout 21 states, seven countries, and one U.S. territory.
“That in-depth analysis of what the [agency’s] structure is and how it reacts to threats, really grabbed my attention,” said Jensen. “Everyone here is extremely knowledgeable. They are experts in their field. It was interesting getting insight on how our cybersecurity apparatus works and the insane amount of defenses that are in place to protect our assets and information networks. A lot of people can’t grasp it. It’s very large and sophisticated, and I thought it was pretty interesting.”
AFROTC is a college program that prepares young men and women to become leaders in the Air Force. After completing all AFROTC and academic degree requirements, contracted cadets are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Air Force for a four-year service commitment.
DISA’s mission is to provide, operate, and assure command and control, information sharing capabilities, and a globally accessible enterprise information infrastructure in direct support to joint warfighters, national level leaders, and other mission and coalition partners across the full spectrum of operations.