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Cyber warrior Arctic Guardians help protect Alaska skies

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kelly Willett
  • 176th Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK -- The 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard is prepared to answer the call of the state and nation, no matter the time, no matter the place. 

This paradigm might elicit thoughts of gray planes in the sky and boots on the ground. What it might not elicit are thoughts of men and women of the 176th Air Defense Squadron protecting against cyber attacks and keeping 176th ADS systems running every day, so they may complete their missions. 

Alaska Air National Guard Master Sgt. Philip Whipkey, 176th ADS Cyber Operations superintendent, explained his section’s mission.

“Cyber Airmen are on call with staffing 24 hours a day,” he said. “We have to support the system, or else we’re not watching the skies and not supporting the operators with the NORAD mission.” 

Whipkey said the unit watches for potential cyber attacks on more than 20 radar sites and their accompanying computer systems across Alaska. This is no small task, and cyber experts are on call to fulfill the demanding mission. 

To stay ready for this important mission, the 176th Wing cyber Airmen participate in exercises across the country such as Cyber Shield, Whipkey said, practicing counterattacks and thwarting hackers through intensive training and real-world scenarios.

The 176th ADS main area of responsibility is the Alaskan NORAD Region, and they use many different tools  to detect and interdict cyber attacks.

Whipkey said there are four to five main components to defending systems in the cyber world, including an intrusion detection system and a variety of firewalls. All of these systems create layers of security. 

“We’re cyber maintainers,” Whipkey said. “We fix computers, servers and switches, but we are also steadily moving towards cyber protection and warfare on a bigger scale.” 

To become a cyber Airman, Guardsmen are expected to go through Basic Military Training followed by an eight-month technical school at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. 

Whipkey said cyber warfare is a relatively new and ever-developing Air Force career field with growth potential given the quickly evolving threats that the United States and Alaska currently face.