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AF Cyber College leverages civilian, reservist expertise to help redefine cyber airmen

AF Cyber College leverages civilian, reservist expertise to help redefine cyber airmen

Lt. Col. Paul Brenner, senior reserve advisor to the commandant of the Air Force’s Cyber College, teaches in a classroom, Aug. 17, 2018, on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. When not teaching at the Cyber College, Brenner is director of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Research Computing, regularly working with cutting-edge technology in the civilian sector. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Charles Welty)


The Air Force’s Cyber College hosted a Functional Mission Analysis Cyber course here last month, bringing in top cyber professionals from around the globe to share their expertise with cyber airmen.


One of the guest speakers was Lt. Col. Paul Brenner, who is the associate director of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Research Computing and in the U.S. Air Force Reserve serves as the senior reserve advisor to the commandant of the Air Force’s Cyber College.


In his position at the Cyber College, Brenner brings both reservist and civilian expertise to the school in order to compliment what they’re doing in terms of cyber security as well as helping with the education, learning and research process at Air University.


“Every field of functionality, whether you’re a maintenance, intelligence or public affairs Airman, cyber is part of what we do every single day,” he said. “Through this FMAC course, we’re teaching our cyber Airmen how to start thinking in terms of mission and mission function and that they’re here to support specific missions of their wings, not just the wing commander’s laptop.”


As more and more career fields begin to rely on technology to complete their mission, Brenner admitted that it only makes sense for the Air Force to put more emphasis on cyber Airmen training and education.


“This one week course has been directed by the Chief Information Officer of the Air Force,” Brenner said. “[The goal is that] the Air Force Cyber College and Air University will help provide strategic guidance for cyber Airmen and officers across the Air Force in terms of thinking differently about how we approach a cyber security mission.”


Brenner discussed how critical this course is to the Air Force because of the current transition of traditional communications Airmen into cyber Airmen.


“There is a big transformation in the Air Force, as far as cyber goes, that has been happening over the past few years,” he said. “Our Airmen that were in communications, working with phones and laptops, have really been evolving into cyber because it interfaces with so many of our weapon systems and our day to day functions right now, not just into our aircraft or our personnel records.”


Falling in line with the Secretary of the Air Force’s priority of restoring mission readiness, Brenner emphasized the importance of getting these Airmen both prepared and excited about their new roles.


“We need to get our Airmen to understand that just patching a system is not what we need them to do,” he said. “What we need them to do is to make sure that [code] that decides fire or not fire on that aircraft is correct, patching is part of that, but ultimately we need to know whether or not that missile is going to fire reliably and getting them excited about that new role.”


In addition to helping instruct this FMAC course, Brenner serves as an important asset to Air University year round. One of his main functions in the Cyber College is to serve as a liaison between the Air Force and the civilian cyber world.


“Lt. Col. Brenner provides an invaluable skill set to the Air Force Cyber College,” said Col. Clinton Mixon, Air Force Cyber College commandant. “As a civilian professor at the University of Notre Dame, he works with people that are on the cutting edge of computer science.”


One of the key projects Brenner is currently leading is a partnership effort between his department at Notre Dame and a major corporation as they investigate application of quantum computing capability on various issues.


“We, the Air Force and Air Force Cyber College, benefit greatly as Lt. Col. Brenner then brings his firsthand experience and knowledge with this revolutionary technology to our faculty and students,” Mixon said. “This allows us to then maintain our status as a leading academic center on current cyber issues facing the Air Force, Department of Defense and the United States.”