Disguised military assess Texas county, saves $500,000

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rachelle Morris
  • Air Force Reserve Command

More than two dozen Air Force reserve, Air Force active-duty and Space Force service members tested the cybersecurity of Nueces County, Texas from May 6-15 as part of an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) event.

The IRT cybersecurity mission was an opportunity to help a community partner detect, safeguard, assess, and protect from malicious cyber activity while also providing a unique training opportunity for service members.

“It is like when you are buying a brand-new house and the builder has an inspector, but you want someone you trust to see what is wrong with the house,” said Eduardo Beltran, Nueces County manager of network services. “So, you also get a private inspector. We are the builders, and the military are the private inspectors.”

The ten-day event was at no cost to the county and saved them approximately $500,000.

“I take it as they are hiring me to do professional service,” said Space Force Sgt. Andres Coronado, 662nd Cyber Squadron, Detachment 21, cyber operations lead. “Anything that I find, is reported back to them.”

Participants like Coronado are very carefully selected through an interview process to ensure they are fully qualified for the mission.

“We don’t want trainees to touch a live network without supervision,” said Senior Master Sgt. Cassie Beauchene, IRT cybersecurity program manager. “We start planning the year prior by developing requirements with the community partners. We offer network vulnerability assessments as well as physical assessments, where we attempt to evade security and break-in.”

The team is composed of personnel across 12 units and 8 career fields. Of the 29 participating, 11 volunteered for the physical assessment element with the understanding that they may be apprehended.

“We want them to think like adversaries,” Beauchene said. “They are in disguise. They may come in to publicly accessible areas to socially engineer or plant specialized equipment.”

If they are caught, they have a card in their pocket from the sheriff letting officers know they are part of an exercise.

“There is not a single military organization where you can do this wide of range of things ever – there are always a lot of guardrails,” said Major Amy Hunt, 75th Intelligence Squadron (IS), Assistant Director of Operations and IRT cybersecurity mission office in charge. “They can’t believe they are allowed to do this. They get really excited.”

For Staff Sgt. Grace Daniels, 75th IS vulnerability analyst, it is a welcome change from her day-to-day operations.

“I do a lot of defensive operations,” Daniels said. “I remember in tech school trying offensive operations, but I never got to try it in the operational Air Force until now. It is interesting to see what my team and my squadron are defending against -- instead of imagining it, now I can see it.”

Daniels isn’t the only one to meet the challenge with eagerness.
“They are choosing to work overtime,” said Hunt. “Day one we had to tell them they were done for the day, and they needed to go home. They also had to be told to go to lunch.”

For many, it is also a networking opportunity.

“I was part of an IRT last year,” Coronado said. “It was a lot of fun. There was another Guardian that I met, have kept in touch with, and even done a couple events outside of this with.”

Nueces County has also participated in medical and civil engineer IRT missions.

“They have been one of the best cybersecurity partners we have worked for because they are willing to step out of the way and say, ‘we don’t know everything and we are okay with you finding things, so you can help us get better,’” said Beauchene.

For more information or to apply for an IRT mission, visit our website