Forrest Durham's 45 Years Trailblazing Air Force Technology
by U.S. Air Force CPT Nadine Wiley De Moura
There can be no doubt that within the last
45 years information warfare has undergone a complete transformation
accompanied by the ever changing digital world. Cyberspace has
become another domain for warfare and poses serious threats to
national defense interests.
Mr.Forrest Durham has been an
integral part of trailblazing the U.S. Air Force technology pace and
advantage over our adversaries throughout his 45 years of government
Throughout his career, Mr. Durham has
dedicated 10 years of enlisted service, 10 years of service as a
commissioned officer, four years as a DoD contractor and 21 years as
a U.S. Air Force civil servant instilling his technical expertise in
the U.S. Air Force cyber and network operations community.
Most recently, Mr.Durham has served as
Deputy Director for Network Operations with the 688th Cyberspace
Wing A/5/8/9 and Technical Director for the 690th Cyberspace
Operations Group applying his technical experience and acting as a
subject matter expert in computer engineering, network operations
and program management.
Forrest Durham, Deputy Director for Network Operations with the 688th Cyberspace Wing A/5/8/9 and Technical Director for the 690th Cyberspace Operations Group stands in front of a RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft
on December 21, 2021 at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. During his enlisted time as an Airborne Voice Processing specialist-Russian linguist he flew Peacetime Aerial Recon missions on RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by CPT Nadine Wiley De Moura)
During his tenure he has witnessed the
transformation of information warfare from hand-building some of the
first PCs as a hobby, to analyzing communications in the Russian
language from inside of aircraft, to defending the DODIN and
facilitating user experience to support USAF core missions.
By way of the path that Mr. Durham charted and his remarkable
contributions, those that follow may gain insight into the evolution
of the U.S. Air Force and his profound commitment and dedication to
defending the nation.
Born in Indianapolis, Ind., Mr. Durham attended George
Washington High School and graduated in 1975. After three semesters
of General Business at Indiana University-Purdue University
Indianapolis he realized he was going to need more finances to
finish his degree. Having a father who served in World War Il and
fought in the Battle of the Bulge, an Uncle who fought in the Korean
War and a brother in the Air Force, he decided to join the Air Force
for more opportunities.
In 1977, 19-year-old Durham enlisted
in the U.S. Air Force as an Airborne Voice Processing
specialist-Russian linguist. After finishing tech school in
Monterey, Calif. at the Defense Language Institute for basic Russian
and Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo, Texas for more Russian
courses he was assigned to his first duty station in Okinawa, Japan
in 1978. There he flew Peacetime Aerial Recon missions on RC-135
Rivet Joint aircraft.
Following this assignment, in 1981 he
was assigned to Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. where he worked
on the EC-103H Compass Call. He recalls getting the opportunity to
attend water survival school with the first Space Shuttle astronaut
candidates including Sally Ride and Judy Resnik, among others.
All of these missions can be linked back to the lineage of the
current command that he still works under today.
As a result
of his skill, work ethic and intellect during his enlisted service,
was selected for the Airman Education and Commissioning Program.
This provided him with the opportunity to work and receive staff
sergeant pay while achieving his Bachelors of Science in electrical
engineering at the University of Arizona.
He married his
wife Jo in 1987 and commissioned as a second lieutenant that same
He attended Office Candidate School at the Medina
Annex at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas and commissioned as a
Research and Development Engineer.
His first assignment as an
officer was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he was
assigned as the Air Force Logistics Command /Systems Center
headquarters program manager of the Model Network Control Center for
Air Force Logistic Command data centers.
Forrest Durham as a first lieutenant at the Air Force Logistics Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
on undisclosed date. (Photo courtesy of Forrest Durham)
In 1992, after
completing a masters degree in systems acquisition at the Air Force
Institute of Technology (AFIT) as a Captain, he became a project
manager for the LANTIRN system, where he led the acquisition,
modification and fielding for a $24 million information system for
collecting, and analyzing LANTIRN avionics maintenance and failure
data. This mission directly supported the targeting and navigation
pods for F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft.
His follow-on duty
station was at Maxwell Air Force Base- Gunter Annex, Ala. From 1995
through 1997 he was the assigned as the Standard Systems Center
program manager for the Integrated Computer Automated Systems
Engineering contract where he retired after 20 years of military
service in 1997.
Following his retirement, Durham worked as a
contractor for the Dynamics Research Corp as Director for their
Montgomery, Ala. Area and Task Lead for the Support Agreement
Management System until 2001.
He transitioned to the Air
Force civil service in 2001 where he took on numerous
responsibilities at the Gunter Annex as a Computer Engineer to
include the Cargo Movement Operations System, the Vulnerability
Lifecycle Management System, the Air Force Enterprise Configuration
Management Office, the initial version of the Standard Desktop
Configuration and then Chief Engineer of Enterprise Services.
During this time he completed his Master of Science in Computer
and Information Sciences at Troy State University.
he moved to San Antonio to take over his current role within the
688th Cyberspace Wing headquartered at Lackland Air Force base. At
the time the 690th COG was then called the 690th Network Support
Group and originally fell under the 67th Cyberspace Wing.
recalls some of the highlights of this role were providing
continuity to seven Group commanders, and the numerous achievements
with each to include: Col. Curt Locke (started AFNet Migration),
Col. Michelle Hayworth (finished AFNet Migration), Col. Chad Radlege
(IAFNOS, AMAC) Col. Heather Blackwell (APPL/SCITL, Cyber Mission
Crews), Col. Greg Davis (a quick stint before being chosen to be
AMC/A6), Col. Kevin Kirsch (End User Experience, VPN Access during
COVID, TEAMS) and Col. Billy Pope (Wing Optimization Transformation,
A2/3, Centers of Excellence).
Durham was an integral part of
AFNet Migration (NIPR), CSCS System Concept (SYSCON), Manpower
Assessment, EITSM, ARAD, ACAS, HBSS, SCCM, Comply-to-Connect (C2C),
IAFNOS (Manning Network Operations), IAFNOS-2, POM and Budget
battles, CSCS Weapon System Requirements, APC Operations,
Transformation Activities: EITaaS, SIPR Modernization; AFPEDC; Zero
Trust and the Wing Transformation.
Every step of the way
Durham proved to be a core contributor to improving and casting the
mold of U.S. Air Force network operations to what they are today.
As he approaches retirement in January of 2022, the 688th
Cyberspace Wing wanted to take the opportunity to capture and share
some of his wisdom, ties to 688th Cyberspace Wing and U.S. Air Force
history in an exit interview before culminates his U.S. Air Force
civil service career.
Whether you are enlisted, officer, civil
service member or any type of leader in your field’s story inspires
and captures a snapshot in Cyberspace history--through his unique
Q: What is your role as a U.S. Air Force Technical
A: I act in a role that brings continuity. A
commander comes in for two years and then I get another one. I look
at it like sailing a ship. I have an understanding of the technical
direction that the AF intends or needs for cyber and a component of
the vector the commander tracks will also accomplish part of the
technical direction. While I fully support the commander’s
initiatives, I also make sure we make progress towards the technical
vision which includes things such as a single face to the user, no
duplicate entry, optimal automation and the consolidation and
evolution of tools and capabilities. The point is the technical way
ahead is ever-evolving and can’t be accomplished in just two years.
There may be a whole lot of other objectives that arise, and I
support them, but I try to make sure we make progress towards a
technical environment that supports mission accomplishment. In
general, I’m looking after what I call user and operator equities,
at least as I understanding them. For example, we have several
efforts going on right now such as EITaaS, SIPR ISN, Zero Trust and
basic cyber security and defense under the umbrella of the AFIN SOC.
The vision as I see it is an integrated operational environment that
allows you to have holistic control over all of the AFIN. I
participate in all of those conversations and I keep singing the
same song to ensure we will be able to operate today, operate where
we are going and operate on the way there.
Q: Would 19-year
old Mr. Durham be surprised with how far your career has gone?
A: I’ve been super surprised every step of the way. I went in as
Open General with vague hopes of becoming a Computer Programmer and
got Voice Processing Specialist-Russian linguist instead. After
that, I just followed the opportunities as they availed themselves.
It’s all worked out well. I had no idea that computers were going to
be as big as they are in their role of businesses and warfighting
operations. I just kept following my nose and opportunities kept
Q: To meet those opportunities you had to have some
work ethic, drive and intellectual ability to carry this career
forward and endure. What inspired you?
A: I can claim I
worked hard throughout my life. My Mom and Dad owned two apartment
houses that we rented out and fixed up and I was always taking care
of those. I also did a lot of drafting in grade school and high
school. My shop teacher instilled quality and a lot of life skills.
Between him and my father scrutinizing the quality of production,
quality has been a common thread throughout. Also, I’ve always liked
to analyze things and processes.
After a lot of schooling on
my own, the AF invested in me to get my electrical engineering
degree and I appreciated that. I felt like I owed them. Also, when I
retired from the AF I recognized how much the AF had invested a lot
in me. In this country there aren’t many people that understand AF
acquisition systems and the processes, so I decided to continue on
the path where I thought I could make the greatest contribution.
When I realized that my career had indeed become focused on
computers, and it seemed everything was going in that direction, I
got another masters, this time in Computer Science.
My wife and
I married when I was at Davis Monthan 35 years ago. You ask how I do
it all—Jo made it possible for me to study and get things done. From
the very beginning and all along the way she has been very
Q: You’ve played an integral role in the
evolution of where the cyber and network operations have gone. How
does it feel to have a hand in all of that?
significant event for me was when I was at Davis Monthan and Compass
Call was new. We were acting as subject matter experts helping to
define system requirements and working with the program managers
that were developing the crew department for Compass Call. I never
knew about program managers or the delivery of warfighting
capabilities and I thought that was cool and would be a great thing
to do for a career. Since then, my career has progressed from being
a developer delivering capabilities to various kinds of warfighters
to my current job where I am more directly involved with operations.
I guess that’s the part I would have never dreamed of. So, looking
back, it is kind of obvious, Davis Monthan was the kick off point
for me: coming to the realization that delivering system
capabilities would a great career path and going to school at night,
getting selected for AECP and getting my electrical engineering
degree from the University of Arizona. That’s what eventually landed
Q: What was the highlight of your enlisted career?
A: Becoming a Russian linguist was quite challenging so there is
much I could share. As I said, the highlight was at Davis Monthan
with Compass Call when I got selected for AECP to get my electric
engineering degree and a commission. The rest of my career flowed
after that. Also, the comradery was a highlight. I am still friends
with some of the Russian linguists I worked with. Generally,
linguists are very intelligent people. It is hard to make it through
that school and the airborne voice processing specialist job itself
is not an easy one. Another interesting highlight was that I went
through water survival training with the first space shuttle
astronaut candidates including Sally Ride and Judy Resnik. The space
shuttle had not flown yet and they were going through water survival
training just like I was. Looking back it was pretty neat. There
were boats with T.V. cameras out in the ocean as we were going out
to do our parasailing. I also went through land survival, and
interrogation training. That was pretty cool.
conflict was going on when you first began your military service?
A: The Cold War in full swing as an ongoing stale mate with the
Soviet Union. We were flying against the Soviet Union collecting
peacetime reconnaissance information. It was real Air Force stuff.
You would get up at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, get your briefing, get
on the plane and get in position on time—or else. We would fly for
12 hours, refuel, recover and analyze information. It was a cool job
and I have a lot of respect for the people that made a career out of
Q: What is the irony of you working at building 2000,
the Sixteenth Air Force, Air Combat Command?
A: While I was
on Okinawa, we worked for the USAF Security Service until it became
the Electronic Security Command. It was headquartered out of this
building (bldg. 2000), so I guess I was part of the early days of
Security Hill. It was a challenge and it really got my full
attention. You see, for us, sometimes the safety of the aircraft
depended on your actions and abilities in a very real environment
where you could be shot down and potentially end up in a prison camp
in the Soviet Union.
Q: Through all of this what has
motivated your drive?
A: Just a love for my country and the
Air Force—it has been great. I love working with various
warfighters, operators, business processes and people. You are
delivering capabilities and it just becomes family and a fulfilling
life. That daily interaction with a team working together to deliver
something and improve it. Just that idea that you have a chance to
improve how something is done and what you do might continue on.
Q: What was the highlight of your career?
A: These last
12 years here have been the real apex of my career. My career grew
from delivering particular systems to representing operators and
their equities in all of the capabilities that are being delivered
to them. Also, I’ve grown to being at a sufficient level of
authority to be able to represent operators, take action and
influence the direction that things go.
Q: Do you think you
are better positioned to influence because of your background?
A: Sure. However, considering the technical scope of things,
there is so much out there that you can’t be an expert in all of it.
It is never possible to really have enough technical knowledge so
you realize you must rely on the operators. You have to develop the
people skills to get them to engaged, absorb what their perspectives
are and try to act on that and support it. You have to draw in the
experts and have enough humility to not over project your knowledge.
Once you bring in the people who really have the particular
knowledge you pretty quickly discover you can nudge the direction of
really viable solutions and get them in alignment with the technical
strategy. It’s cool to be in that role.
Q: What would you
tell other civil servants or prospective civilians about the
Cyberspace Wing and the Air Force?
A: I think generally the
AF has a limitless number of opportunities. Within that, do well at
the job you have and try to contribute to the overall mission in
that space and there will come a chance. Other opportunities will
come so you should try to focus those so they will build upon each
other. You will find that over time you have a portfolio of
experiences that nobody else has and it brings a unique angle. Try
to own that. Leverage that to bring more contribution to the mission
and the missions that you effect. Things change and that is the hard
part about cyber. So you have to try to be rational—one of my
biggest challenges is to ensure operational effectiveness and that
operators have capabilities they need today. Don’t just hunker down
on today, but support the process in the most feasible way that
keeps the mission viable.
Q: What advice would you offer to
cyber operators on weathering the storm of change?
must look after what you are currently doing from the top down. We
tend to develop our vision, but the vision has got to include
effective transition to it. So the operators need to totally support
the transition to the vision but they also need to represent clearly
the impacts and considerations that need to be accommodated on that
path. And there is nobody else that can do it. It becomes like an
additional duty on top of all of the other hard work that they do
but it is a thing that nobody else can do or explain. Sometimes you
have to let lose your favorite technologies and skills and
adjust—because everyone will have to adjust to get into the new
method. Don’t just push back on the new method, figure out what you
have to have in your mission set to be able to get there.
What leadership advice would you leave behind for current and future
leaders in the cyber operations field?
A: I’ve usually been
in a program manager and technical advisor role. It all goes back to
understanding the vision and your role in it. You must understand
not only your role in current operations but also your role in
helping to get to that end state and support that as best as
possible. Sometimes that means cutting your best person over to be a
representative in those technical conversations. The easiest thing
is to keep your best people at home to increase production. But
sometimes you have to put your best people into the discussion to
Q: Looking back at the overview of historical
events during your 45 years of service, what has been your go to
method of resiliency?
A: The advice is to look within your
locus of control and give encouragement. Encourage both personally
and mission-wise. Everybody has concerns and change is a thing of
life. When it comes to mission and Air Force work it helps to
understand that all the churn and everything we are going through is
part of a process to transform. It is okay to be frustrated, that is
part of the work. When it comes to COVID-19 and all of those other
things we just have to ride with that and support people. But mostly
encouragement is the primary word.
Q: Do you feel like you
are leaving your vision and role at a good place?
A: I think
it’s a good time for me to leave. There are significant changes
coming such as the Wing transformation, zero trust and the Centers
of Excellence. I’ve think I’ve helped the Squadrons get what they
need, and I feel like that’s been my biggest accomplishment;
however, now with these changes and new approaches coming, the team
could probably benefit from someone who has more career in front of
them, a full head of steam and is ready to vigorously pursue that.
So I am happy to step aside and let someone else take over. I’ve
done what I can to posture the mission for success.
do you want the everyday civilian to know about Air Force Cyberspace
A: We operate, protect and defend the AF
networks. That is becoming an area of concern militarily. Cyberspace
is its own warfighting domain and it is one that is ripe for
asymmetric attack. It is hard work to protect it effectively and it
is going to take some real teamwork from all areas to win in this
area. Where we’ve always been on top in the air, land and sea, this
one is new. I think we have done some great things and the things we
are working on are going to take us there. That is exciting. But
it’s serious, we really need to put our best into it.
the bottom up, Airmen have a pretty intimate understanding of the
mission. What does that say about our ability to fight that threat?
A: I am not surprised since that is the Air Force I joined—one
that fights. My enlisted time as a Russian-linguist, showed me the
value of all ranks in the Air Force. In particular, I know the value
of a Master Sgt. and how important they are. They lead the immediate
fighting force. As a Russian linguist I played a role very much like
cyber operator--day in and day out working those shifts and
projecting that force. The mission happens among the enlisted and
the things they accomplish. That is the joy of being in the Air
Force—the teamwork. The AF as I’ve known it has been a place for
patriots. They don’t stay because of the money, they stay because of
the reward that comes from contribution. They are encouraged when
they are given responsibilities and are recognized for fulfilling
them. The AF is a family that perpetuates and continues that. It
refines technical skills. You end up with Airmen who are highly
skilled and could go out in the industry and make tons of money.
Some do, but many stay because they love their country and what they
are able to contribute and accomplish as a team. They are given lots
of responsibility and they rise to it. So I am not surprised at all.
That is what I expect from Airmen and the Air Force.
you have any plans to work after you retire?
A: I may
consult, I will set up an LLC and be available for consulting on
cyber operations, etc., but I’m not going to actively pursue
employment with any company directly. Since I have unique
perspective and experience, I would probably enjoy some degree of
engagement as long as I’m still bringing value. We’ll see.
Primarily, though, my wife and I have purchased some land in
Tennessee and are looking forward to building there and do some
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
wouldn’t have done things any differently. I am very happy with my
Air Force experience and the way it’s all played out. I’ve been
especially impressed with the people in the Air Force. They have the
highest integrity and are hopefully very representative of the
American people in general. I am very glad to have been part of it.
It will be hard to leave. I love delivering capabilities to users.
I’ve done some awesome things for a very dynamic user base. I love
the idea of applying computer technology to processes to help people
that are struggling. What would be my advice to others? Come on in
the water’s great, there’s a lot to do, and there’s no better
environment to work in than the US Air Force!
Our Valiant Troops |
I Am The One |
Citizens Like Us
U.S. Air Force |
Air National Guard
U.S. Air Force Gifts |