Cyber War Calls For A New Look US Soldier

Cyberspace is today what airspace was a century ago. It’s a whole new domain our enemies are rushing to exploit. 

That’s why the US Defense Department created US Cyber Command in 2010. That joint military operation has a goal no different than any tank platoon, carrier group, or fighter wing: to keep the US safe.

The problem facing this new service is finding the right quantity and quality of talent, and herein lies the problem. The best cyber warriors don’t always make the best soldiers. 

Some won’t be able to handle the physical rigors of basic training. Some won’t be able to pass a drug test. Many simply don’t have the kind of brains wired for precision marching and crisp solutes.

Does the Army turn them over to civilian agencies like the NSA, or a quasi-private contractor system? Maybe the Army should just relinquish its cyber branch altogether and allow it to form a completely separate service, like when the Army Air Corps became the US Air Force. 

But if the Army still wants to retain a uniformed presence in cyber space, how do they do it without offending those who’ve literally sweated and bled for the right to call themselves soldiers?

In another time, in another place, our British cousins found themselves in a similar quandary over talent. During World War II, they needed a lot of qualified naval officers to fill a lot of badly needed tasks. 

But putting these Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves (RNVR) in the same threads as the career battleship officers would have offended a tradition going all the way back to the days of ‘wooden ships and iron men.’ 

Their solution was to change the gold stripes on RNVR sleeves from straight to wavy. The message was loud and clear: “We may not be the varsity, but we’re still just as much in the game.”

Creating a new, specialised uniform probably wouldn’t entice new recruits. That’s a much bigger, more complex issue. It might, however, encourage those who already want to serve their country but never thought they could. A distinct stripe or badge, or black and grey camo pattern would send a very clear message to two very diverse communities.

To the traditional warrior-class it would say, “Yes, we know we’re not you and we’re not pretending to be. We respect the risks you take and we honor the sacrifices you make.”

To the civilian world it would say, “We keep your private data private. We keep your democratic process democratic. We keep your lights on and your hospitals running. We may serve behind keyboards, but keep you just as safe as those behind triggers. We stand watch on the digital wall. We are Cyber Warriors.”

The Hill

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