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New Hampshire National Guard, El Salvador Participate in Cyber Exchange

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson,
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – In the heart of San Salvador, inside the Centro de Etrenamiento Tactico, New Hampshire Airmen from the 157th Communications Flight shared new ideas with a growing Salvadoran cybersecurity unit.

The joint training, coordinated through the State Partnership Program, allowed both cyber teams to share digital agendas, policies and tools to protect infrastructure and prevent vulnerabilities.

“This is what the State Partnership Program was built to do,” explained Chief Master Sgt. Frederick Balas, the chief enlisted manager of the 157th Communications Flight. “Sharing ideas to help them grow, learning about the ways we can support their needs, and answering questions that ultimately strengthen their systems and their security procedures.”

On this mission Aug. 22-26, the New Hampshire National Guard and Salvadoran cyber offices consisted of Airmen, Soldiers and civilians with a range of technical experience and rank. For some, this was their first experience with the SPP; others have been a part of the international cyber partnership since the exchange between the two programs began in 2016.

“Their leadership configuration mirrors the organization structure we presented and discussed during the previous mission,” said Tech. Sgt. Alan Dwyer, a client systems operations technician with the 157th CF and a member of the first New Hampshire team to work with El Salvador through the SPP. “It’s so cool to see what was just a few people managing cyber protection turn into the formation of a cyber unit.”

The Salvadoran forces are working to form an official cybersecurity unit by 2024 with eight full-time members, according to 1st Lt. Marvin Giron, the executive officer for the Salvadoran cybersecurity unit. Briefings from the 157th CF members explored powerful tools to help them achieve that goal within their capabilities and budget.

“We may not have the exact same resources,” said Ingrid Estrada, a software engineer with the future Salvadoran team. “But the group explained accessible programs that scan for vulnerabilities, how they work and how to manage them.

“There is a lot of pressure on our team to develop, support and guide the country in the direction we are trying to achieve,” she said. “Cyber is everywhere and it touches everyone. It’s a huge project for a small group, but this training demonstrated it is possible and it gave us resources to get there.’’

Dwyer and Staff Sgt. Nathan Proulx, a client systems operations technician with the 157th CF, also demonstrated open-source scanning software, training plans and automated tools. The Airmen showed how the programs allow members to practice commands in a text-based operating system and support a stronger infrastructure.

“In order to support a strong national cybersecurity network, all of our members need to be certified and trained,” said Giron. “We hope to supplement our digital agenda with these training plans and methods for sharing information.

“It is something we will keep close to our hearts,” he added. “The mentality of collaborating as a unit will help us achieve our future goals.”

By the end of the exchange, there was a palpable connection between the two groups. 

“The cyber landscape is only getting more complicated and more hostile,” said Dwyer. “We are stronger when we are willing to learn from one another.”