An Air Force Coder's Tale
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima
October 11, 2019
There is an Airman working long hours behind the shadows to protect computer networks from cyberattacks.
Senior Airman Dorian Stacy, 423rd Communications Squadron network operations technician, is in charge of protecting the cyber networks for RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth. His work supports the 423rd CS mission to provide premier uninterrupted, secure communications support and global connectivity for the United States and its mission partners.
August 8, 2019 - U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Dorian Stacy, 423rd Communications Squadron network operations technician, inspects the backup hard drives at RAF Alconbury, England. Stacy is in charge of securing network operations and ensuring proper access and permissions are in place at RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)
“Basically, the unit manages the data superhighways required to transfer and process data supporting military operations,” said Lt. Col. Brian Beauter, 423rd CS commander. “In executing our mission, we ensure the wing and tenant units have access to the data and information technology systems they need to execute their missions for the Air Force and the Department of Defense.”
In Stacy’s specialty, network operations includes two sides: cyber defense (network security) and cyber control (network operations). Network security, also known as vulnerability management, is ensuring all computer settings and applications are secure. Network operations is making sure folders and restricted drives are locked down, everybody has correct permissions and the official drive is secure.
“We have to make sure there’s no back doors that could potentially allow a hacker to get in and escalate their administrative permissions,” said Stacy.
Stacy works closely with units from Ramstein Air Base, Joint Based Langley-Eustis, Joint Warfare Center Stavanger, RAF Mildenhall, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Croughton.
“We’re all sharing information between each other, we can share scripts and share solutions to problems,” said Stacy. “Whoever is the first to find something out there is letting people know, because we deal with a lot of unique problems.”
Sharing information allows a quick remedy for possible problems and increases the Air Force cybersecurity readiness. Stacy pursues additional training to broaden his cybersecurity knowledge through mock inspection training and on his own spare time, learning to master scripting and coding. In Air Force technical training, Airmen are given an overall understanding of job requirements, however a lot of technical skills are learned on the job.
“Scripting and coding definitely came when I joined the military, because I quickly realized it’s something that can extraordinarily help you out,” said Stacy. “We’ve been able to automate a lot of solutions and provide scripts for other locations and bases to help speed up what they were doing. It’s a very useful tool to have.”
In addition to Stacy’s dedication on the job, he gives back to the next generation of computer enthusiasts by working with a CyberPatriot team. CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program created by the U.S. Air Force Association to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other sciences.
“My favorite accomplishment since I’ve been in the Air Force is hands-down working with the CyberPatriot team at the local high school,” said Stacy. “Working with the JROTC team is incredibly fulfilling in that I’m able to teach these students different skills I’ve learned.”
Stacy assembles a JROTC team that consists of four to six team members at Alconbury Middle High School. The team practices securing fake networks.
“You’re typically given a scenario: these computers belong to this company, and they don’t want any media software on it, and these people should be administrators,” said Stacy. “They give you the policy the company wants on their computers, and then you go into the computer and you try to see if it matches up. For everything you do that improves the security of the system you get points and it’s graded. You can also do things that remove points in case you accidently mess something up.”
Stacy’s eyes light up as he describes the painstaking process of finding solutions in his work with computers.
“We have these big tasks that seem like you’re making no progress,” said Stacy. “It’s painfully slow work and you’re just pulling your hair out. You make a little bit of progress, or maybe no progress for a whole week and suddenly you sleep on it, and wake up with an idea. You try it, and everything works out. It fixes a big problem and it’s so incredible!”
This motivation has made Stacy an asset in his unit.
“Senior Airman Stacy has a real passion for IT,” said Beauter. “He loves the challenges that come with being responsible for securing our networks. Since arriving at RAF Alconbury in 2017, Senior Airman Stacy has served as our resident subject matter expert in cyber defense and has earned himself the nickname, “Cyber Stacy.” He has built several custom software patches to keep our networks secure and available, ensuring wing and group personnel have access to the files and software necessary to complete the mission.”
Training has helped Stacy in his day-to-day life and has inspired him to reflect on his work ethic in the office and at home. He is in the process of pursuing his computer science degree.
“Being goal-oriented helps my personal life,” said Stacy. “Being able to tactically break down the process by making individual goals, and then accomplishing and putting them together at the end to create a finished product, that’s something I picked up from the military. When you’re dealing with something large, you have to break it down into little pieces.”
Stacy joined the U.S. Air Force in January 2015 and arrived at RAF Alconbury two years ago, after his first assignment at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
“I would recommend my job to anyone who is able to mull over technical problems that seemingly have no end, who could pay close attention to detail and find enjoyment in seeing progress over a long period of time. It’s not something where you can have instant satisfaction; network security is something you just really need to have a love for, as silly as that sounds.”
His love for the job, in turn fuels the motivation for his unit.
“This is a high performing unit chocked full of outstanding Airmen who consistently get the job done,” said Beauter. “The month and a half I have spent with the 423rd CS Thundercats has been a re-bluing experience. The motivation, cohesion, and esprit-de-corps among the Thundercats has rejuvenated and reinvigorated my passion for the Air Force and our outstanding Airmen.
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