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How to become a Marine hacker

Aug. 25, 2014 - 08:38AM   |  
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Times are tough for Marines vying for a career in uniform. Even strong performers in overpopulated specialties can face an untimely end to their service during the current manpower drawdown. But a lateral move into cyber, one of the hottest burgeoning communities, can provide Marines large cash bonuses, quick promotions and job security.

Fields like special operations are seeing similar growth. But, few can set a Marine up for success in their military and post-service civilian careers like a cyber specialty.

Defense leaders have called the cyber domain as important as traditional sea, air, space or land domains. With that declaration each service is moving to quickly grow its cadre of cyber warriors. Marine Corps Cyberspace Command in Maryland boasts more than 100 Marines, for example, but could eventually count nearly 800 among its ranks. Even more are needed by other units within the Corps to deploy with the fleet.

Reflecting that importance, first-term Marines re-enlisting in the 0689 cyber security technician specialty now take home a $51,000 re-up bonus, the highest in the service and on par with other high-demand, low-density specialties like 0369 critical skills operator. Additionally, Marines making a lateral move into the MOS can receive an automatic promotion if they don’t already meet minimum rank requirements. Corporals who earn the 0689 designation make sergeant non-competitively.

The recent release of a new document for commanders, called “MAGTF Cyberspace and Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell Concept,” is likely to elevate the importance of Marines in many cyber billets even further. The new document gives cyber specialists an increased role in planning and supporting tactical operations. But as the service deploys cyber Marines further down in the organization and further forward on the battlefield, demand for those Marines is outstripping supply.

“You need people who are adept at cyber war and that is a very small population. You don’t have enough to put 10 at every battalion,” said Martin C. Libicki, a senior management scientist at the RAND Corporation and professor in cyber warfare at the U.S. Naval Academy.

That could be a short-term stumbling block for the service, but good news for those in the community as they become an even hotter commodity in the military — and outside.

Marines who specialize in cyber operations are setting themselves up for financial security once they leave uniform, too.

“It is no different with us in the military as it is with the banking industry,” said Col. Gregory T. Breazile, the director of the Command and Control/Cyber & Electronic Warfare Integration Division at Combat Development and Integration Command aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

And it isn’t just large financial institutions that are vulnerable. Large defense corporations, technology firms, even Coca-Cola have been attacked by hackers. Those businesses are willing to pay cyber specialists more than $100,000 per year to protect themselves.

For those hoping to join MARFORCYBER, there is no specific specialty or rank that will lead them there. But, most who join the command come from the 20 intelligence, 06 communications and 26 signals intelligence/ground electronic warfare fields. Applicants are screened for potential, rather than current skills, but reading up on cyber capabilities and pursuing certifications as a network administrator of certified ethical hacker is recommended. Those selected typically undergo about six months of specialized training followed by an 18-month apprenticeship.

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