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Reserve Cyber Marines Support Tradewinds 23 after Winning Another USMC Cyber Games

NEW ORLEANS, LA. —

Marines from 6th Communication Battalion reclaimed the first-place title for the Marine Corps Cyber Games May 1-5, 2023, as the only Marine Reserve unit to compete.

Despite tying for first place with I Marine Expeditionary Force, 6th Comm Bn are still the reigning champions of the semi-annual competition as both units earned perfect scores in their respective events. 6th Comm Bn didn’t compete in 2022 due to operational tempo and were unable to send a team but they won first place in the 2020, 2021 and now the 2023 USMC Cyber Games.

“We’re lucky to have such a talented group of Marines,” said Lt. Col. Marc McNeill, commanding officer of Headquarters Company, 6th Comm Bn.

“Their performance in this competition, as well as their wins in the 2020 and 2021 USMC Cyber Games, really shows the capabilities that the reserve component can bring to the fight.” Lt. Col. Marc McNeill, commanding officer of Headquarters Company, 6th Comm Bn.

The Cyber Games provide Marine Corps units an opportunity to compete in tailored scenarios and challenges of varying difficulty to test their knowledge and skills of defensive cyber operations. Marines also learn new skills to better their cyber proficiency.

A total of five teams of six to 12 Marines each competed this year from different units, including Marine Special Operations Command, I MEF, III MEF, 8th Comm Bn and 6th Comm Bn. These teams engage in a simulated environment where they were given 24 hours over a two-day period to gather as many cyber flags as possible of differing levels.

The 6th COMM Bn team consisted of Marines from both Alpha Company, Bravo Company and one Marine from the Marine Innovation Unit. From Alpha Company, Warrant Officer Travis Nichols, a defense cyber weapons officer, Gunnery Sgt. Adam Radloff, a cyberspace operation chief, Staff Sgt. Michael Torres, a network administrator, Staff Sgt. Ezell Hardman Sgt. James Johnson, both cyberspace warfare operators. From Bravo Company, Staff Sgts. David Osborne, Tyler Short, Nicholas Szantos, Cpl. Joshua Mackaman and Lance Cpl. Nirajan Poudel, all defense cyberspace warfare operators. From MIU was Maj. Robert McCartney, a communications officer.

“Many of these Marines are cybersecurity professionals in the civilian careers and are as technically proficient as anyone in the Marine Corps,” said McNeill. “Most of these Marines didn’t start their careers as [cyberspace officers, or cyber defense operators]. So, if any Marines out there have skills in this area, regardless of your current [military occupation specialties], we’d love to add you to the team.”

As a Reserve unit, 6th COMM Bn is split geographically, while Alpha Company is in Concord, California, Bravo Company is on the other side of the country in Ayer, Massachusetts. This proves that 6th COMM Bn can operate in a distributed environment and still accomplish their mission.

6th COMM Bn’s win streak continues even though under half their team has not been formally trained through the Marine Corps’ defensive cyber school. This is a result from when the Reserve Component stood up the cyber companies, they pulled many Reserve Marines from other MOSs that had a cyber background.

Staff Sgt. David “Ryne” Osborne, formerly an artillery gun chief, was one such Marine. He thought his time in the Reserve force was coming to an end because of limited open billets for artillery career progression. He was then reached out to because of his cyber background in his civilian career and was given the opportunity to stay a Reserve Marine and lateral transfer to cyber.

When asked about next year’s games, Osborne replied, “I am extremely excited for next year’s competition. We, as Reserve Marines, have consistently proven that we are executing at par and often above our active-duty counterparts. Having another opportunity will give us another platform to show that many of the Reserve Marines can execute at an extremely high proficiency while most often, not being MOS 1721 school-trained certified.”

A few members of the winning team have also been involved in Tradewinds 23 a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored exercise designed to strengthen partnerships and interoperability, promote human rights, as well as increase all participants training capacity and to mitigate, plan for and respond to crisis and security threats. This year, Tradewinds was hosted in Georgetown, Guyana.

Nichols, Osborne, and Mackaman from the winning team along with Gunnery Sgt. Danel “Nikki” Beier, a cyber intelligence chief, and Cpl. Mario Huelga, a cyber intelligence analyst, with 6th COMM Bn, provided multiple classes on defensive cyber operations to 26 service members from seven different partner nations. These classes ranged from basic network enumeration and analysis, cyber incident response, vulnerability analysis, threat hunting and cyber threat intelligence.

This was the first time since 1984 that Tradewinds has brought cyber capabilities to the exercise and is also one of the first exercises that 6th COMM Bn has supported an overseas exercise as the Marines annual training.

“It’s a very unique opportunity in training with partner nation forces, especially in cyber,” Nichols said. “With cyber being at the forefront of everyone’s priorities, it gives my Marines the ability to not only spread the knowledge of cyber security, but also cyber threat intelligence (CTI).

“This year was the first iteration of expanding cyber’s scope to include CTI in the course curriculum,“ continued Nichols. “As cyber threats become more prevalent into today’s battlespace, the Marine Corps partners not just with the US sister services, but also partner nations like Guyana to help combat emerging persistent cyber threats.”

By LCpl Sarah Pysher | U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve

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