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Arkansas National Guard Competes in Cyber Challenge

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jennifer Gerhardt,
  • 188th Wing

FORT SMITH, Ark. - Four members of the 188th Intelligence Support Squadron at Ebbing Air National Guard Base competed against 27 teams in a two-day cybersecurity event in Fayetteville Nov. 3-5.

The team — Tech. Sgt. Donald McKellip, Tech. Sgt. Brandon Wheeler, Staff Sgt. Tommy Patton and Senior Airman Dalton Landrum — “had background in different information technology areas of interest and an excellent team dynamic,” said Senior Master Sgt. Boone Beatty, the 188th Intelligence Support Squadron operations flight chief. “We intend to send more next year.”

The RazorHack Cyber Challenge, hosted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Section 5, aimed to increase cybersecurity awareness. 

The event’s scenario involved an energy company’s efforts to recover from a cyber compromise. Participants faced challenges across various fields of expertise, including network security, deciphering cryptography, reverse engineering, binary exploitation, network analysis and web vulnerability exploitation. There was even a cyber-themed escape room.

“This was our first year, and we were able to do the event thanks to a grant from the IEEE Computer Society,” said Evan Glover, who founded the Computer Society chapter in Northwest Arkansas in 2022 and helped organize the event. “Most of the teams were from Arkansas this year, but we are hoping to expand our reach next year.”

The 188th ISS discovered the RazorHack Cyber Challenge after accepting an invitation from Col. Patric Coggin, the 189th Airlift Wing commander, to join the 189th Communications Flight and the 223rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron for a visit to the University of Arkansas’ National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission and the Engineering Research Center. The goal was to focus on areas of mutual interest, including cybersecurity.

“This event not only challenges our Airmen in exciting ways, pushing their limits and fostering teamwork, but it also provides invaluable opportunities to learn and master new cyber techniques,” said Maj. Kimberly Hunter, the 188th Communications Flight commander. “Beyond that, RazorHack provides a unique platform for recruiting talented individuals into the Arkansas Air National Guard cyber career fields.”

Beatty said RazorHack was an opportunity to build cybersecurity skills, aligning with the 1D7 career field’s shift toward a network/system defensive posture. The members also sought to partner and network with others in the field and Army Arkansas National Guard units, such as the 223rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron in Little Rock, which focuses on cyber offense. 

Beatty said the collaboration will enable the sharing of resources and training materials while enhancing participants’ cyber skills in the face of near-peer conflicts.

“As the Air Force increasingly focuses on cyber offense and defense, the expertise gained in events like this competition can translate into a better understanding of technology, more effective training, improved support, and the presentation of innovative solutions to various problem sets within their areas of operation,” said Beatty.

The squadron also promoted the 188th Intelligence Support Squadron to prospective recruits, as the event attracted participants ranging from high school students to cybersecurity experts.