Defense Digital Service Settles into Georgia Cyber Center

Both the service and U.S. Army Cyber Command are hoping the center can help them to partner with industry and academia to find collaborators to tackle the toughest challenges.

by Tom Corwin, The Augusta Chronicle / October 26, 2018
A rendering of The Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center. gta.georgia.gov

(TNS) — Under Star Wars-themed posters and on T-shirts, Defense Digital Service celebrated its move Thursday into the Hull McKnight Building of the Georgia Cyber Center.

Both the service and U.S. Army Cyber Command are hoping the center can help them to partner with industry and academia to find collaborators to tackle the toughest challenges. Army Cyber Commanding General Stephen G. Fogarty also has to recruit not only talent but to sell his current civilian workforce on moving to the Augusta area when the new Army Cyber Command Headquarters opens at Fort Gordon in June 2020.

The theme "Tatooine Defense Digital Service Rebel Outpost," a reference to Luke Skywalker's home planet, appeared around the center and Defense Digital Director Chris Lynch wore a "Visit Tatooine" T-shirt as he addressed a mixed audience of military and civilians interested in cyber.

"We're really, really big into this whole Star Wars thing," Lynch said. The service seeks to find and recruit the top tech talent in the military to work alongside skilled civilians in teams that seek to crack urgent technical problems facing the military quickly.

"There is no place more impactful," Lynch said. "There is no place that has the ability to do what we do. We're here to serve."

The idea is to come together with industry and academia in "partnerships, teaming together to answer our nation's call," said Maj. Gen. John B. Morrison Jr., commanding general of the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence and of Fort Gordon.

Kristian Tran had been a software engineer with tech companies and had worked as a government consultant before joining Defense Digital and seeing all of the history in the halls of the Pentagon where the service is based.

"You get to impact all of these different things," she said. "You can't fix government from the outside. I don't think that's possible."

The service has real-time power to protecting the military and its partners, Fogarty said. As enemies have learned to use drones to spy on allied forces and dropped an explosive down the turret of a Humvee and killed some Iraqi forces, the service was able to engineer a solution to foil it in a number of weeks, he said. Now a lot of that work, and a lot of Army Cyber's work, is shifting to the Augusta area, he said.

"This is where we are all converging," Fogarty said, working in partnership with National Security Agency-Georgia, which is already located at Fort Gordon, as well as the state of Georgia, Augusta University, Augusta Technical College and law enforcement. The Cyber Center makes a lot of that possible and Fogarty commended Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal for pushing the project through.

"The governor made I think a great investment here," he said. "We're going to maximize it. This is going to become a very easy way to connect with us. What I need is capable willing partners and individuals who are willing to take on these very tough problems for the nation."

Much of that work is already being done in Augusta as Army Cyber's Cyber Protection Bureau has already moved down to Fort Gordon, Fogarty said.

"This has become the center for cyber security for the Army," he said. "We can do the work here or I can deploy the people here all around the world. This is a very busy organization."

Most of the construction has already been completed on the new headquarters and now the critical installation of information technology – "our weapons system" – will begin leading hopefully to an opening in June 2020, Fogarty said. He is hoping to move down that April and then be followed by "several hundred" military and civilian personnel and their families, he said.

Exactly how many civilians will make the voluntary move is unclear right now but Fogarty said he is enlisting Georgia and South Carolina's U.S. Senators to be part of a forum and he previously had great success getting civilian NSA employees to move from Maryland when he was commander of NSA-Georgia. Along with commanding the Army Cyber Center of Excellence a few years ago, this will be Forgarty's third assignment to Augusta and he knows the area will appeal to them as it does to him.

"This is the beauty. You have so many options down here," he said. "You could live on the South Carolina side, you could live on the Georgia side. You could live downtown, you could live out in the traditional suburbs. There are just so many opportunities for the workforce. I love this area. The people that work here, they love this area. And I just cannot wait to get back down here."

©2018 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.