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NEWS | June 28, 2019

Cyber X-Games 2019 - Critical Network Defense with Joint Force and Multinational Focus

By Sgt. Erick Yates Army Reserve Cyber Operations Group

Cyber X-Games 2019 continued the critical focus on defending the Nation’s cyber infrastructure and took an additional step forward by extending the joint force strategy to NATO partners. 

The U.S. Army Reserve Cyber Operations Group (ARCOG) hosted Cyber X-Games 2019, at the 63rd Readiness Division Headquarters, Moffett Field, California, June 7-16. 

Participants of this year’s competition focused on the protection of Department of Defense assets through joint force collaboration with cyber and network operations squadrons from the Air force. It also welcomed NATO partners who observed how the Cyber X-Games are planned and how the Army Reserve builds a skilled reserve cyber force.

For Army Reserve Cyber Soldiers, time is a factor in terms of the amount of training needed to meet mission capability milestones. Having a Cyber X-Games type of event for annual training lends itself to maximizing a dedicated time frame where certain criteria and models are set so Soldiers participating can build on essential cyber tactics and techniques.

“The Cyber X-Games is a culminating training exercise for Soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Michael Lewis, one of the ARCOG’s lead coordinators for the X-Games.

“The benefit of Cyber X-Games as an annual training exercise—is that it allows for nine days or more to include mission prep - where the Soldiers have a blocked amount of time to do small unit planning and a practical exercise, basically injecting all the factors of a real cyber mission into the X-Games,” said Lewis.

Lewis, credits his colleagues, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher Manuel, Lt. Col. Shawn Zumwalt, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Marcus Fife, all of whom serve in various aspects of the ARCOG’s command staff. Also credited in the coordination effort is staff from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Software Engineering Institute (SEI).

In reviewing highlights on the X-Games last day, Lewis noted the feedback on this year’s competition has been remarkable and is a good indication that the focus, concept and planning is heading in the right direction.

During the final X-Games analysis brief, Lewis summarized to a panel of Army cyber and signal leaders with intelligent humor that when giving the initial mission inject brief to the participants, he made a point to mention that with all the details and planning for the inject, the teams would be very busy. 

“The participants must have thought I was joking when I said, they would be very busy with developing the team inject plan, because the response from the teams was – they were very busy,” he shared with the panel.

The panel of cyber and signal leaders included - Maj. Gen. Stephen Hager, deputy commander operations, U.S. Cyber Command National Mission Force, Maj. Gen. Peter A. Bosse, commanding general, 335th Signal Command (Theater), Col. Robert S. Powell, Jr., commander Army Reserve Cyber Operations Group, 335th SC(T) , and Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Eddy, ARCOG senior enlisted adviser.

“We get a lot of good input that is integrated into X-Games for the next year,” said Col. Powell, ARCOG commander.

“Last year input received from the two top finishing teams – said working together in a joint force environment offered a more competitive edge to the X-Games overall,” Powell said.

Recognizing the input, there was a focus to add more of a joint force collaboration within the teams this year,” he added.

Inviting NATO multinational partners to attend was a subject of discussion once planning for this year began, explained Lewis.

In talking with our multinational partners as planning developed, similarities were realized as they shared efforts to build a reserve cyber force, he said.

“The Cyber X-Games, is a valuable training event for cyber and could possibly open up opportunities for NATO partnership corporation,” said Lt. Col. Mark DE Wolff, a NATO liaison officer assigned to the Army Cyber Center of Excellence.

He elaborated that in observing and having discussions about cyber training for reserve elements, future opportunities can take place with U.S. military cyber forces that can leverage cyber strategies with their U.S. counterparts, to include possible participation in the X-Games.

Learning some of the history of the Army Reserve Cyber Operations Group while visiting the X-Games was also a key point for DE Wolff and his Colleagues. They mentioned how it was interesting see to how the ARCOG and the X-Games has evolved along with some of the tools and strategies used for training ARCOG Soldiers.

In their discussions during the X-Games, both Lewis and DE Wolff acknowledged part of having collaboration in a joint forum, regardless of the partnership, is leveraging communication platforms as new cyber training and strategies are presented. Engaging in improved communications platforms where joint efforts is a focus allows for better understanding of cyber operating mission practices going forward.

When conducting his final brief on the X-Games last day, DE Wolff shared how he and his colleagues found the opportunity rewarding and valuable and thanked the ARCOG for extending the invitation to the delegation.

When conducting his final brief on the X-Games last day, DE Wolff shared how he and his colleagues found the opportunity rewarding and valuable and thanked the ARCOG for extending the invitation to the delegation.

“The way cyber professionalism was shown during the visit was an impressive take away for us,” he said.

Before concluding the brief, he recognized both the ARCOG and CMU planning teams for the level of organization and detail put into Cyber X-Games 2019.