Army mulls a cyber career field for civilians

The service's cyber commander tells Congress that recruiting and retaining civilian cyber warriors remains "challenging."

Army Cyber Commander Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon

Lt. Gen. Cardon testifies before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee.


As part of its attempt to attract cyber operators and keep them around long enough to become appropriately skilled, the Army is considering whether to create a cyber career field for civilians similar to the cyber branch it created last year for uniformed personnel.

Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, commander of the Army Cyber Command, told a Senate subcommittee April 14 that, while efforts to increase the size of the uniformed cyber force were going well, recruiting and retaining civilians remains “challenging,” given government pay scales compared with those in the private sector and the government’s “comparatively slow hiring process.”

Putting existing incentives—such as enhanced recruiting, relocation and retention bonuses and repayment of student loans—into a formalized career path could help efforts to attract talent. The key to making it work, Cardon told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, is consistent funding, something that has often been left in limbo during years of continuing resolutions and sequester. The Army has targeted $1.02 billion of its $126.5 billion fiscal 2016 budget for cyber, with $90 million of that going toward construction for the Cyber Center of Excellence headquarters at Fort Gordon, Ga., he said.

The Army says it needs a combined 3,806 military and civilian cyber warriors to carry out its operations. The service has been expanding its force on the uniformed side, activating a Cyber Protection Brigade in September 2014 and following that not long after by creating the Cyber Branch 17, a specific career field for cyber operators.

Those efforts, which include getting recruits to enlist for six years, have been bearing fruit, Cardon told the subcommittee, echoing comments he made to Congress in March that the Cyber Mission Force has been growing “exponentially” over the past couple of years.

Longer enlistment times and retention incentives are critical because of the time it takes to become truly proficient. In announcing the activation of the cyber brigade, Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Harris said that full training takes three years, with two six-month courses followed by two years of apprenticeship.

Among the incentives the Army is offering soldiers are special-duty assignment pay, bonuses for cyber assignments, the opportunity to train with industry and a variety of educational opportunities, Cardon said. Incentives for the National Guard and Army Reserve also include bonuses for soldiers moving from active duty to part-time, but staying in the cyber field.

The Army currently has 25 Cyber Mission Force teams in place and, in all, plans to field teams by the end of fiscal 2016. Another 21 teams will operate within the Army Reserve and National Guard Cyber Protection Teams.

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