Cmdr. Christopher Eng is the commanding officer of Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Corry Station and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science in computer science. He first served in the Navy as a submarine officer and then transferred to cryptology and information warfare (IW). He became the commanding officer of IWT Corry Station in September 2015.
IWTC Corry Station is in Pensacola, Florida, and is one of four training schoolhouses for the Center for Information Warfare Training (CIWT), a learning center for Naval Education and Training Command. Eng’s staff of around 350 personnel trains 2,200 students every day, totaling 8,300 students annually.
In July 2016, the former Center for Information Dominance (CID) changed its the name to CIWT, to emphasize a shift in thinking of IW as a critical capability of the Navy’s mission sets. Accordingly, Eng’s command name changed from CID Unit Corry Station to IWTC Corry Station.
The command’s mission was also updated to providing a continuum of IW training to Navy and joint service personnel that prepares them to conduct IW across the full spectrum of military operations.
While many within the IW community think of Corry Station as the “cradle of cryptology,” the schoolhouse also offers courses in the information technology field.
Carla McCarthy, the CIWT public affairs officer, spoke with Cmdr. Eng about one of the 39 courses his staff teaches, the Joint Cyber Analysis Course.
What is the Joint Cyber Analysis Course (JCAC)?
A: JCAC is the introductory “A” school for Navy Occupational Specialty (NOS) B525, for what were cryptologic technician networks (CTN) Sailors. It’s roughly 6 months long, and it takes a Sailor who may have minimal exposure to computers and how computers work and brings up their baseline knowledge in terms of how networks operate. What I really like about it is that it teaches the fundamentals of networks and computer science. I think it’s important to teach the fundamentals because that allows Sailors to really branch out to different work roles from there. All things are cyber related, but our graduates will have different work roles. This course is really the introductory level and the feeder into more advanced follow-on courses specific to the job skills that they’ll hold for their first tour in the Navy.
Q: What kind of student is the Navy looking for to perform the job of cyber analysis?
A: Of course a technical background, a good strong background in STEM, which is science, technology, engineering, and math, always will be beneficial. Someone who got good grades in high school math is beneficial. Some of the intangibles are strong critical thinking skills, a level of curiosity. What we really want is people we can teach how to self-learn, people who are enthusiastic about this topic. That way they will want to do their own research, and they want to continue along with this education. While the JCAC course is 6 months and it’s long and it’s hard, it’s really only the beginning of a significant training pipeline to develop a strong Sailor who will be valued within the cyber field. So, critical thinking, curiosity, strong STEM background and initiative are important.
Q: How difficult is the course and what kind of support do instructors provide to help students succeed?
A: The course is probably the most difficult technical “A” school course that we teach at Corry Station. Approximately 22 percent of our students will academically attrite, and that’s across all services, the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, the Marines and the Coast Guard, who all attend this course. What we also see is an increased rate of attrition from our new accession Sailors, those Sailors coming straight out of boot camp, and I’ll speak to that in a second.
The instructor’s whole role is to impart this training and to try and get the students to succeed. The instructors will look to find people who are having difficulties, and they will assign them mandatory hours. During those mandatory hours of remedial training, they will get more individualized attention to catch up on materials they might not have picked up on the first time. We hold academic review boards for students who are having issues with their tests. They’ll meet with a set of military instructors to understand if there are any hurdles that are keeping these students from achieving their academic potential and succeeding in the course. It could be they’re distracted by other duties. They’re distracted by home. They may have some personal issues, and these are things that we will want to help to address to alleviate the concerns and distractions. That way the students can focus in on the class.
Speaking of which, I mentioned that the new accession Sailors have a higher attrition rate, and I attribute that to folks who are coming out of high school. To qualify for this school, you have to have a higher than average ASVAB rating. For some of these people, they may have done well in high school, and they might not have needed to study really hard. If they try to apply their old study habits to JCAC, it’s less likely that they will be successful.
Additionally, if you join the Navy and the recruiter offers you this NOS and this school, the awareness of what this career field does is not necessarily out there. Potentially you come to this course, and it’s the first thing the Navy offers you, and you don’t realize what a tremendous opportunity this is. So, you don’t put forth your best effort, because you think if you don’t pass, then you’ll get another opportunity that’s just as good.
I think for our fleet returnees, they understand how valuable this training is, what a great opportunity this is and how relevant it is to job opportunities in the Navy and outside the Navy. They just work harder, and they’re more receptive to understanding that they’re going to have to study hard.
Q: How does JCAC support the development of the Cyber Mission Force?
A: JCAC is a feeder course for all of the work roles that the Cyber Mission Force will perform. You can go on DoD’s website, and it outlines the different roles for the Cyber Mission Force. JCAC is the introductory-level training that will support all of those work roles. A majority of the [service members] in the Cyber Mission Force will have gone through JCAC prior to their assignment to the force. Then after they get assigned to the CMF, they will probably do continued follow-on training for their specific role and specific mission that they’ve been assigned. From JCAC, having that strong foundational knowledge in networking, in computer skills is a key enabler to success in those follow-on courses.
Q: What kind of assignments do JCAC Sailors receive upon graduation?
A: The vast majority of them will go work at a navy information operations command, or NIOC. Some of them will be part of the Cyber Mission Force. They’ll get assigned one of those work roles, and they would be administratively controlled by a NIOC. A lot of the students will also go into the traditional signals intelligence (SIGINT) mission.
Q: As a leader within the Navy’s Information Warfare community, what words of wisdom do you have regarding cybersecurity?
A: Cybersecurity really needs to be viewed as everyone’s responsibility. We all have to remain vigilant. We all receive training, and it’s important that we take on board that training. The cyber realm and the cyber threats are evolving each and every day, so just because you went through the training last year, just because you went through training at boot camp, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take this training seriously. As the threats evolve, we have to remain on top of it. It’s each individual person’s responsibility to take this seriously and to report suspicious activity.
Photo credits (in order of appearance):
1. Students in the Joint Cyber Analysis Course (JCAC) at Information Warfare Training Command Corry Station take part in an independent study session. JCAC trains enlisted personnel from all services in the skills and knowledge to perform technical network analysis in cyberspace operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor L. Jackson/Released)
2. Cmdr. Christopher Eng, Commanding Officer, IWTC Corry Station
3. Airman 1st Class Susanna Murrell (left) and Airman 1st Class Nathaniel Giles, students in the Joint Cyber Analysis Course (JCAC) at Information Warfare Training Command Corry Station, take part in an independent study session. JCAC trains enlisted personnel from all services in the skills and knowledge to perform technical network analysis in cyberspace operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor L. Jackson/Released)