Cyberspace reservists lead the way in improving partnerships and driving innovation during New Mexico Joint Innovative Readiness Training Exercise Cyber Shield

  • Published
  • 960th Cyberspace Wing

A team of Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) cyberspace Airmen, chiefly comprised of members of the 960th Cyberspace Wing, AFRC’s premier cyberspace wing, were joined by Air Force Active Duty, New Mexico Air National Guardsmen (NMANG), Space Force Active-Duty members, and Marine Reservists to execute the 2023 New Mexico Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Exercise Cyber Shield in support of Central New Mexico (CNM) Community College, Luna Community College (LCC), and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) from July 10-21, 2023 across at multiple Albuquerque locations. 

Led by the 51st Network Operations Squadron (NOS), the IRT delivered 80 hours of cybersecurity curriculum ranging from ‘Intro to Cybersecurity’ through ‘Attack Vectors’ and ‘Threat Hunting’ for 41 community and military students, including members from 12 Pueblo tribal communities. In addition to classroom instruction, the team conducted a total of nearly $250,000 worth of network penetration tests for the IPCC, LCC and CNM, a testament to the cost-effective services and training secured by IRT partnerships.

In preparation for the IRT, industry experts, civilian organizers and service members were able to develop tailored, in-depth curriculum on network threat and vulnerability assessments. Additionally, several labs and demonstrations were available to showcase several vulnerability assessments and mitigation tools frequently found in Security Operations Centers. Trainees expressed great satisfaction with the breadth and depth of the curriculum provided, some even responding that the content offered significantly more context and insight in comparison to a collection of their tech courses together.

The IRT program was founded in 1992 under the ‘Rebuild America’ initiative in order to integrate training opportunities for Active, Guard, and Reserve service members through collaborations with American communities. The program allows multiple career specialties to engage in hands-on, real-world training that improves military readiness, strengthens community relationships and safeguards infrastructure.

The 2023 iteration of the NM IRT saw the most expansive joint and Total Force integration for a cybersecurity mission under the Office of the Security of Defense (OSD). The previous 2022 NM IRT, whose participants included the 150th Communications Squadron and 51st NOS, laid the foundation to establish a valid and meaningful training opportunity to benefit all parties. The lessons learned and relationships established from the 2023 execution enabled the 960 CW to capitalize on the unique training opportunity, quadrupling the efforts and scope in the 2023 execution.

In summary, over 200 cyberspace training tasks were completed between the instructional and vulnerability assessment teams. In addition, multiple attendees were able to receive continuing education credit for existing certifications as well as recommendations from the executing team for certification paths that would orient their career path for offensive and defensive security.

During the conclusion of the IRT, leadership from participating services, IRT program directors, civilian CEOs, future IRT partners, and federal representatives were welcomed and briefed by the executing team. As a result of their unrelenting commitment and strong performance, the Airmen were awarded multiple command- and wing-level coins for their achievements, received thanks from the community and were invited by local partners to support future instruction.