Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A New Kind of "Special Forces"

We usually think of Special Forces as real life super heroes. These extraordinary human beings are capable of physical feats that the average American can barely conceive of. The basic requirements for admittance to the Army Green Beret Training Program consist of a 2 mile run in under 12 minutes, 100 sit-ups in under 2 and an astounding 100 pushups 2 minutes.[i] In a country where over a third of the adult population is obese, and 3 out of 4 men are overweight, finding enough qualified individuals to fill even the much lower basic military fitness standards can be a challenge. That difficulty is only compounded when recruiting for certain highly specialized MOS’s like those slated for the new Cyber Command. If our country is going to remain competitive in the digital age it might have to rethink how it uses the term “Special”.
Green Berets, Navy Seals, and other elite unites are defined by their ability to do things no one else can. They are expected to run faster, push longer and fight harder than anyone else in the field. In exchange for their extraordinary service there are granted certain reprieves from normal military standards. A prime example of this is drug testing. It is an open secret that while steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are not exactly sanctioned for use in the Special Forces, their consumption is a matter of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” However, a regular enlisted soldier who tested hot for amphetamines or prescription sleep aids would quickly find himself out of a job. So if it is acceptable to bend the rules for one unique and necessary service, why can’t the same concept be applied to cyber soldiers?
There’s a reason that the stereotypical computer nerd is not a specimen of physical fitness. He/She is either a pale underweight waif who probably couldn’t beat up a butterfly, or a slovenly overfed lump whose closest relationship is with the deliveryman. Now both these caricatures are obvious exaggerations, but they do hold a grain of truth. Computing is a skill like any other. It takes time to develop and must be practiced in order to stay sharp. Unlike other combat skills however, all that time behind the keyboard doesn’t lend itself to physical fitness. That’s not to say the worlds can’t overlap, but there is definitely a certain tension between the two.
America is already fighting an uphill battle in the IT department. Most computer science majors can walk out of college straight into a $60,000 salary.[ii] That’s an enormous step up from the roughly $36,000 a newly commissioned officer can expect.  If the DOD wants any chance at hiring the best and brightest young minds it is going to have to let go of old notions about how to fight a war, and accept that physical demands are not as universal as they once were. The new cyber command should ease the physical standards in order to make way for individuals with this different and very much needed set of skills.  After all the Special Forces of the future may not be able to do 100 pushups in two minutes or run a 6 minute mile, but if they can help keep this country safe does it really matter?

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