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Guarding the office in the sky: Historical first for 89th CS

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Ashley N. DeLeon, 89th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. — For the first time in 89th Airlift Wing history, the 89th Communication Squadron stood up a mission defense team, which helps strengthen mission assurance for the 89th AW missions.

According to military senior leaders, in today’s society cyberspace has never been a more vulnerable area, especially for the United States’ congressional and military leaders. 

“The Air Force as a whole has figured out that there is an inherent risk from the cyber domain in our missions that the Air Force conducts,” said Lt. Col. Michael Medgyessy, 89th CS commander. “That risk has been steadily growing.”

The 89th AW mission is focused on providing safe, comfortable, reliable, connected and protected global transportation for America’s senior leaders.

According to Medgyessy, protected global transportation never included the domain of cyberspace, and that’s where their team’s mission would begin – the office in the sky.

In November during President Donald Trump’s 12-day tour through Asia, the MDT partnered with ten different government agencies, including the White House Communication Agency, Maryland Air National Guard’s 275th Cyber Operations Squadron, Lackland Air Force Base’s 35th Intelligence Squadron and Viasat, an industry partner.

“We are the first MDT to conduct cyber missions as a large force employment, including a commercial industry partner,” Medgyessy said. “The big thing about this large force employment is it’s a live active defense with all partners on station at one time, hunting and responding. We are bringing all our capabilities to the table at one time, focused on one mission, for a certain duration time synchronized.”

The 89th CS has had the capabilities to properly secure communication assets, but the purpose of the MDT is to enhance those processes actively hunting the enemy.

According to Medgyessy, speed is the goal his team is striving toward.

“We are defending the people and the information they use, and the ability of them to transmit that information when they need it,” said Medgyessy.

During Trump’s tour through Asia, the MDT not only provided a cyber escort to the President, but also the Secretary of State. There were two teams tasked, one team actively defending the Secretary of State and the other dedicated to POTUS. Both teams were able to escort two flights with similar itineraries at the same time.

“We have two lines of effort,” Medgyessy said. “One is the secure side of the house where we take our known vulnerabilities and we try to plug those vulnerabilities and increase the cost of the enemy doing business with us. We call it hardening the terrain. Then our other line of effort, MDT, which is our active defense hunt capability. We’re hunting in our blue space like security forces roaming patrols.”

The Air Force is always striving for innovated developments to better the mission and that was proven with this team due to speed and precision.

“As the team lead, I was responsible for the coordination and execution of both missions simultaneously, I am very proud of the work I contributed to the team,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Carlson, 89th CS MDT team leader. “The part that means the most to me, and what I’ll remember, was how the team worked together to accomplish a very difficult set of missions. We have junior Airmen and young non-commissioned officers that exercised some critical thinking skills that you just don’t see at that level.” 

Although it was the first of many cyber security missions, the MDT reached its initial operational capability milestone and has officially been re-designated as the 89th Mission Defense Effort incorporating more of the entire squadron, which was declared Dec. 4, 2017 by Col. Casey Eaton, 89th AW commander.

The 89 AW MDE will be the second wing retained cyber defense team declared IOC in the AF.

“I am very proud of these Airmen and NCOs,” said Carlson. “They’re the ones bringing a new level of defense to our terrain in cyber.”