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A Year of Developing Military Cyber Professionals in Our Nation’s Heartland, by Paul Jordan

posted Jun 29, 2015, 10:48 AM by Shawna Bay   [ updated Sep 13, 2015, 7:53 AM by Joe Billingsley ]

The St. Louis Chapter of the Military Cyber Professionals Association (MCPA) is hosting its first annual Cyber Capture the Flag (CTF) event, “MCPA STL CTF 2015” (http://mcpa-stl.org/).  This event is the culmination of over a years worth of work in standing up the Chapter.


The seeds of the Chapter were planted in June 2014 by a small group of junior Air Force Officers on Scott Air Force Base (AFB) in Illinois. With the standup of US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) Cyber Mission Teams on the base, the group recognized the need for a professional organization with a cyber-focus.  We initially self-organized as a social group called the Cyber Professionals Club (CPC) where members could share information and collaborate over drinks every other week at the base club. We discussed long-term goals of providing cyber-focused training and education for the local community.


In November 2014, I was referred to the MCPA by a mentor that’s now serving as faculty at the Air Force Academy. Soon after joining, the shared goals of the CPC and MCPA became apparent. After coordinating with MCPA National leadership, we rebranded ourselves the MCPA St. Louis Chapter and I began serving as Chapter President.


Given this new umbrella of nation-wide support and structure, the former CPC developed bylaws for the new Chapter and set realistic short-term goals. We focused on volunteering for local science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related events, hosting local professional development events, and continuing our social gatherings at the club.


In February, a few of our members participated in a regional FIRST Tech Challenge competition (http://www.usfirst.org/) as judges. They began developing what has quickly become a strong presence in the region’s STEM community.  During this event, middle to high school aged students tested their robots against each others to solve challenges, demonstrating the incredible technical ability of the young students.  FIRST was a natural organization to partner with since its STEM mission is shared by the MCPA. After this event, we began expanding our presence into St. Louis.


The first event in St. Louis we supported was the Military Open Source Software’s (Mil-OSS) first Student Hackathon in April 2015.  Four of our members provided mentoring to two teams of college and high school aged students as they worked on solving a real-world software problem. Following the event, the Chapter formalized a partnership with the Mil-OSS group and began planning the next Student Hackathon scheduled for late October 2015.

During the Student Hackathon, a few of our members decided to put together a team to compete in a local hackathon put on by Globalhack (www.globalhack.org).  On June 7th, this team developed an app for the social networking site lockerdome.com and placed second out of thirty teams in the competition winning $15,000. These types of event are increasing in frequency and present our Chapter, as well as other, with excellent opportunities to learn while having fun, gain exposure for the MCPA, and promote community partnership.


During Globalhack competition, we formed a partnership with the local Launch Code office (www.launchcode.org). This fall, they will begin a developer mentorship program that our Chapter plans to actively support.  Launch Code is another natural partner for us as they are a nonprofit that creates pathways to economic opportunity and upward mobility through apprenticeships and job placement in tech.  The partnerships we have forged and plan to develop with local offices of nation-wide tech-related non-profit organizations is a great example of the potential opportunities that exist everywhere across the nation.


In one short year, the St. Louis Chapter has gone from inception to being a prominent organization in the rapidly expanding St. Louis tech scene.  With the proceeds from the CTF, the Chapter is planning to endow a scholarship fund to support local STEM education.  The sky's the limit, and who better to take us there than the the Air Force?


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Update (Sepember 2015): since the publishing of this story, this chapter successfully led the St. Louis tech community in a competition called "Hack the Arch", receiving lots of media attention.





About the Author: Paul Jordan


Paul Jordan is a US Air Force First Lieutenant currently assigned to the Cyberspace Support Squadron of Air Force Space Command and is the MCPA St. Louis Chapter President.


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