Shortly after the secretary of the Army made Cyber a branch in September 2014, a Cyber Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program was announced, asking for applications from active-duty officers, second lieutenant through colonel.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Lt. Col. Tim Groves, Cyber Branch chief, Officer Personnel Management Directorate, Human Resources Command, or HRC, Fort Knox, Kentucky.
More than 1,500 emails and phone calls came in to HRC inquiring about a transfer to Cyber Branch, Groves said. About 700 transfer request packets were received and reviewed by a board of officers from HRC and from within the cyber field, and 20 percent were selected.
“This historic evolution signals cyber as a growing and vital operational capability for our Army,” said Lt. Gen. Edward C. Cardon, commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command. “We know we have within our ranks — active, Guard and Reserve — a vast talent pool that possesses the intellect, experience and enthusiasm needed to build our cyber force. This is only the beginning.”
This week, all Soldiers who applied were notified if they were selected or not, he said.
“Those who were selected really deserve our congratulations,” said Col. Jennifer Buckner, commandant of the Cyber School at the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, Fort Gordon, Georgia. “We considered a very large application pool, and the talent level among the applicants was very, very high. I think it was a very successful first selection process, and it resulted in some great officers joining our branch.”
But that’s not the end of it for those who weren’t accepted, Groves said. Many not accepted were still highly qualified, with careers or degrees in science, technology, math or engineering; prior service in cyber jobs within signal or military intelligence; or aptitude and skill sets that would indicate future success in the cyber branch.
“Obviously we did not completely fill the branch on this first round of selections, so those who weren’t selected will have other chances to join our branch,” Buckner said. “I’d encourage them to apply again. There are enormous opportunities and enormous challenges ahead of us, and we’ll continue to fill our branch with the talented people who can help us meet them.”
Another military personnel message, or MILPER, is expected to come out next month, announcing more openings for officers. The strategy of staggering the buildup of the Cyber Branch from zero to full capacity is to adjust the accession process and ensure the selections come from the best talent pool, Groves said.
Later this year, Groves expects there will be announcements for warrant officers and enlisted who may wish to apply for the new branch.
“We here in EP [the U.S. Army Human Resources Command’s Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate] are taking an active and aggressive role in the development of a Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS, 17-Charlie, which is the enlisted component of the Army’s cyber units,” said Col. Douglas Stitt, the directorate’s director.
The MOS should come online in the fall of this year, he said. In the meantime, HRC’s Signal and Intelligence Branches, along with the newly created Cyber Branch, are working to identify enlisted men and women to classify into the MOS, establishing career plans and maps, looking at retention and determining how to assess new Soldiers and bring them into the force.
Standing up a new branch is not a common undertaking, said Groves. The last major branch the Army stood up was Special Forces in 1987.
The advantages to Soldiers working in cyber and having their own branch are substantial, he said.
For example, they now get to have their own career path, complete with professional military education. They also get more stability in their field, meaning they won’t be assigned other duties like military intelligence or signal, which would mean their cyber skill set would atrophy over time.
The career path for officers being developed by the Cyber Center of Excellence will be similar to any other officer career path, he added, meaning advancement through Basic Officer Leadership Course, Captain’s Career Course, Command and General Staff College and so on.
Additionally, there will be broadening opportunities to train with industry and degree programs for masters and doctorates in cyber-related fields. It’s an exciting time to be in cyber, he said.
“This absolutely signals a very bright future for Army cyber,” Buckner said.