IR JROTC students take on cyber-security at summer camp

Date Published: 
September 2, 2016

Coastal Point • Kerin Magill: IR junior Pedro Zarate and sophomore Thomas Hernandez recently attended   CyberPatriot camp at the Randolph Macon Academy in Front Royal, Va.Coastal Point • Kerin Magill: IR junior Pedro Zarate and sophomore Thomas Hernandez recently attended CyberPatriot camp at the Randolph Macon Academy in Front Royal, Va.Readers who think young people today spend too much time on computers might want to stop right here. On second thought, keep reading… and be impressed.

Two students in Indian River High School’s Junior ROTC program spent a week in August at CyberPatriot camp at the Randolph Macon Academy in Front Royal, Va. The camp is part of a cybersecurity education program in which teams from all over the country learn cybersecurity tactics and compete against each other to identify threats and defuse them.

The program was started in 2009 by the U.S. Air Force Association and funded by the Department of Defense.

The AFA has been increasingly concerned with cybersecurity — keeping the nation safe from threats against computer systems. Disruption of computer systems can cause major damage to the country’s banking, commerce, manufacturing, defense and other industries — and the CyberPatriot program has several goals that address those threats.

“We use computers for everything,” said Maj. Frank Ryman, lead instructor for IR’s JROTC program.

By introducing students to cybersecurity tactics, the CyberPatriot program not only provides them with tools to protect themselves from internet predators, it also seeks to encourage youth to enter the field as a career. By introducing cybersecurity through a fun, competitive program, CyberPatriot also endeavors to introduce more students to careers in science, math and technology fields, now referred to as STEM.

The CyberPatriot training and competition allows students to hone skills needed to keep the country’s computer systems safe, all while having fun. Teams consist of two to six members, and compete against other schools on a regional and national level.

IR junior Pedro Zarate and sophomore Thomas Hernandez, both of Selbyville, attended CyberPatriot camp this year and now are actively involved in bringing together a team (or teams) from Indian River for the competition.

Hernandez said the material learned at camp not only involved identifying threats but, in a more general sense, “how to use any software safely.” Zarate explained that, through computer simulation, students at the camp had hands-on experience in “what to do and what not to do” when a security threat is detected.

The tuition for the camp was provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, under which IR’s JROTC program operates. The two students are currently recruiting team members and hope to get started in the competition in October.

Ryman said the CyberPatriot program is a worthwhile extension of the existing JROTC program at IR, which includes training in marksmanship, a drill team, color guard, leadership and other components.

While cybersecurity might be new in terms of its capacity as a threat to national security, Ryman said its introduction into JROTC training is timely.

“You can’t see it, but it’s there,” Ryman said of the danger of cyber threats.

Zarate and Hernandez encouraged other JROTC members to join a CyberPatriot team at IR’s JROTC open house on Thursday, Aug. 25. Both said they are looking forward to putting together at least one team and getting other students involved.