Tags: Cyber, Cyber Defense, Information Dominance, Information Warfare
Much has been written of late about “Creating Cyber Warriors” within the Navy’s Officer Corps. In fact, three prominent and well-respected members of the Navy’s Information Dominance Corps published a very well articulated article by that very title in the October 2012 edition of Proceedings. It is evident that the days of feeling compelled to advocate for such expertise within our wardroom are behind us. We have gotten passed the WHY and are in the throes of debating the WHAT and HOW. In essence, we know WHY we need cyber expertise and we know WHAT cyber expertise we need. What we don’t seem to have agreement on is WHO should deliver such expertise and HOW do we get there.
As a proud member of both the Cryptologic Community and the Information Dominance Corps, I feel confident stating the responsibility for cultivating such expertise lies squarely on our own shoulders. The Information Dominance Corps, and more specifically the Cryptologic and Information Professional Communities, have a shared responsibility to “Deliver Geeks to the Fleet.” That’s right, I said “Geeks” and not “Cyber Warriors.” We don’t need, and despite the language many are using, the Navy doesn’t truly want “Cyber Warriors.” We need and want “Cyber Geeks.” Rather than lobby for Unrestricted Line status, which seems to be the center of gravity for some, we should focus entirely on delivering operational expertise regardless of our officer community designation.
For far too long, many people in the Restricted Line Communities have looked at the Unrestricted Line Communities as the cool kids in school. Some consider them the “in-crowd” and want to sit at their lunch table. Some think wearing another community’s warfare device validates us as naval officers and is the path to acceptance, opportunity, and truly fitting in. We feel an obligation to speak their language, understand the inner workings of their culture, and act more and more like them. Some have grown so weary of being different or considered weird that many would say we’ve lost our identity. Though establishment of the Information Dominance Corps has revitalized our identity, created a unity of effort amongst us in the information mission areas, and further established information as a legitimate warfare area, many continue to advocate that we are lesser because of our Restricted Line status. We seem to think we want and need to be Unrestricted Line Officers ourselves. Why? Sure, we would like to have direct accessions so that we can deliberately grow and select the specialized expertise necessary to deliver cyber effects to the Fleet. Yes, we would like a seat at the power table monopolized by Unrestricted Line Officers. And yes, we would appreciate the opportunity to have more of our own enjoy the levels of influence VADM Mike Rogers currently does as Commander, Fleet Cyber Command and Commander, U.S. TENTH Fleet.
But there is another path; a path that celebrates, strengthens, and capitalizes on our uniqueness.
In the private sector, companies are continually racing to the middle so they can appeal to the masses. It’s a race to the bottom that comes from a focus on cutting costs as a means of gaining market share. There are, however, some obvious exceptions, my favorite of which is Apple. Steve Jobs was not overly interested in addressing customers’ perceived desires. Instead, he anticipated the needs of the marketplace, showed the world what was possible before anyone else even dreamt it, and grew a demand signal that did not previously exist. He was not interested in appealing to the masses and he surely wasn’t focused on the acceptance of others in his industry. He was focused on creating unique value (i.e. meaningful entrepreneurship over hollow innovation), putting “a dent in the universe,” and delivering a product about which he was personally proud. We know how this approach evolved. The market moved toward Apple; the music, movie, phone, and computing industries were forever changed; and the technological bar was raised with each product delivered under his leadership. Rather than lobby for a seat at the table where other leaders were sitting, he sat alone and watched others pick up their trays to sit with him. Even those who chose not to sit with him were looking over at his table with envy, doing their best to incrementally build on the revolutionary advances only he was able to realize.
Rather than seek legitimacy by advocating to be part of Team Unrestricted Line, we ought to focus on delivering so much value that we are considered a vital part of each and every team because of our uniqueness. I am reminded of a book by Seth Godin titled “We Are All Weird.” In it he refers to “masses” as the undifferentiated, “normal” as the defining characteristics of the masses, and “weird” as those who have chosen not to blindly conform to the way things have always been done. For the sake of argument, let’s consider the Unrestricted Line Officers as the masses, those considering themselves “warfighters” as the normal, and the Information Dominance Corps as the weird. I say the last with a sense of hope. I hope that we care enough to maintain our weirdness and that we don’t give in to the peer pressure that could drive us to lobby for a seat at what others perceive to be “The Cool Table.” By choosing to be weird and committing more than ever to embrace our geekiness, the table perceived to be cool will be the one at which the four Information Dominance Communities currently sit. It won’t happen by accident, but it will happen, provided we want it to happen. Not because we want to be perceived as “cool,” but because we are so good at what we do, and we deliver so much unique value to the Navy and Nation, that no warfighting team is considered complete without its own personal “Cyber Geek.”
I sincerely respect the opinions voiced in the article to which I referred earlier in this post. However, I think we are better than we give ourselves credit for. Let’s not conform, let’s create. Let’s not generalize, let’s specialize. Let’s not be normal, let’s be weird. Let’s choose to be Geeks.
CDR Sean Heritage is an Information Warfare Officer who is currently transitioning from Command of NIOC Pensacola to Staff Officer at U.S. Cyber Command. He regularly posts to his leadership-focused blog, Connecting the Dots.