I MEF Cyber Team Wins USMC "Capture the Flag" Cyber Games 2022
by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dana Beesley
On April 8, 2022, after four days and
thirteen hours of putting their defensive cyber operations (DCO)
capabilities to the test, I Marine Expeditionary Force’s
DCO-Internal Defensive Measures (IDM) emerged victorious from the
Deputy Commandant for Information (DC I), Marine Corps “Capture the
Flag” Cyber Games 2022.
June 29, 2022 - Several members of I Marine Expeditionary Force’s DCO-Internal Defensive Measures (IDM) team
at 9th Communication Battalion on Camp Pendleton, California were Staff Sgt. Keith Wolf, Sgt. Robert Gerbec,
Cpl. Ian Bergman, Lance Cpl. Thomas Feuerborn, Cpl. Charles Grubbs, and Lance Cpl. Sunjeev Shaik.
These Marines along with fellow MEF’s DCO-IDM team members
(Sgt. Menkarahet Gamble, Cpl. Austin Boyd, Lance Cpl. Noah Brandstetter,
and Lance Cpl. Benjamin Patten) won the Deputy Commandant
for Information (DC I), Marine Corps “Capture the Flag”
Cyber Games 2022. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Marine Corps photos by Cpl. Austin Fraley.)
This fourth iteration of the Marine
Corps Cyber Games, hosted at the Naval Air Warfare Center via the
National Cyber Range in Orlando, Florida; was the first to force
teams to focus on defensive cyber skills rather than offensive cyber
skills. Here, teams earned points by capturing cyber flags, in a
simulated contested environment, which ranged in difficulty from
Apprentice, Journeyman and Master.
For Cpl. Ian Bergman, a
cyberspace warfare operator with I MEF’s DCO-IDM winning team, the
uniqueness of this year’s event challenged him and his fellow
Marines to try new methods of analyzing data to reach a common goal.
“Although cyber analysts have similar jobs, everyone gets tasked
either as a pair, a team, or individually to try and solve these
puzzles and capture these flags,” said Bergman. “We utilized the
skills that certain Marines are better at to chase down flags. While
every analyst had a job to capture their individual flag, we all
needed to be willing to offer a hand where we could fit in in order
The team agreed that constructive communication and
fluidity between all ranks involved is unique in the cyber community
and paramount to its success. Lance Cpl. Thomas Feuerborn observed
that many solutions to scenarios would not be solved without the
ability to learn from each other.
“The Marine Corps is
heavily based on leadership, where if someone makes a mistake, a lot
of people will end up covering down to fix that mistake,” Feuerborn
said. “Any one person in cyber can be the key to unlocking a
specific problem. A lot of it has been instilled from the bottom up;
teaching your Marines to be better than you are.”
the gap between talent management and problem solving in a simulated
environment was a new challenge for the Marines to overcome. Staff
Sgt. Keith Wolf, the team leader for DCO-IDM, credited the team’s
success with understanding whom to employ where in various scenarios
throughout the competition.
“You have to use talent
management to know where to start; who’s good at what and being able
to look at questions from every different angle,” said Wolf.
“There’s a set number of total flags, which get unlocked as you
progress. Most of the time, you have to solve one question to even
know how to get to the next question to answer. The way that you
could lose points was by being locked out of a question by answering
it wrong too many times.”
Feuerborn said the experience of
this year’s competition brought a new level of camaraderie and
cohesion to the team, a cohesion which enabled them to score almost
400 more points than last year’s winning team.
these cyber-attacks, you're constantly troubleshooting and problem
solving and trying to figure out what's going on,” said Feuerborn.
“There’s not one way to answer any given question, but there are
more effective or efficient ways to get to the answers. It's all
about honing that skill with your team or partner going about it
Finding the “missing piece” of a cyber
threat directly correlates to that of a typical math equation,
according to Bergman. DCO is categorized as passive and active
defense operations to defend Department and Defense and other
friendly cyber spaces. Offensive cyber operations are categorized as
operations intended to project power by the application of force
“Let's say if you're writing out an
equation and trying to solve for x, and you forget an algorithm that
you needed, I would remind you to ‘Carry that 2,’” Bergman said. “In
cyber, it's ‘You forgot to click on this.’ If I have a piece of
information that [my teammate] is missing, he’ll be able to open it
up or pull out everything that was noise; otherwise you might just
be continuously digging and chasing the flag.”
competitions like the Marine Corps Cyber Games, team analyst Sgt.
Robert Gerbec said he and the other members of the team found that
they were more equipped for real-life scenarios they may have in the
“Exercises like this help us hone our eye for the
sort of obscure situations we may face,” said Gerbec. “You're not
always going to know where the adversary is going to be, what kind
of systems they're going to use, how they're going to get into your
network, or what their ultimate end goal is. [During the Cyber
Games] we had a write up of what the scenario was, so we had kind of
a baseline of what our adversaries’ suspected eventual goal is, so
we knew to check these certain things.”
The other four teams
which competed were from Marine Corps Cyberspace Operations Group,
III MEF, 8th Communications battalion and Marine Forces Special
Operations Command. Each team consisted of six to ten marines.
Members of I MEF’s DCO-IDM team were Staff Sgt. Keith Wolf, Sgt.
Robert Gerbec, Sgt. Menkarahet Gamble, Cpl. Austin Boyd, Cpl. Ian
Bergman, Lance Cpl. Noah Brandstetter, Lance Cpl. Thomas Feuerborn,
Cpl. Charles Grubbs, Lance Cpl. Benjamin Patten, and Lance Cpl.
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