Sea Cadets Building the Next Generation of Cyber Defenders

By Jennifer Cragg, U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps Public Affairs

ORLANDO, Florida — U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps showcased their cybersecurity capabilities during the world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Nov. 29-Dec. 3. Sea Cadets from the Orlando-based Centurion Battalion took center stage at the 2021 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), which welcomed thousands from around the world to look closely at “Innovating and Accelerating Training: Adapting to an Unexpected Future.”

“Our CyberPatriot coach, Instructor Denise Nicholson, coordinated an opportunity for our two Sea Cadet CyberPatriot teams to be on the STEM floor for emerging trends,” said Lt. Doug Evans, commanding officer, Centurion Battalion, who has had a career in federal law enforcement and now volunteers with the Sea Cadet youth organization.

“I have a unique perspective in the fact that I am intimately aware that our nation receives a tsunami of attacks daily on our collective systems, which serves as an immediate and constant asymmetrical threat. The only way we will survive as a nation is to develop cyberwarriors, and these young men and women will be on the front lines of cyber-safeguarding those systems. We have to protect our cyber-defenses; and these young men and women, wearing Sea Cadet uniforms, are learning how to defend it,” said Evans.

In its 14th year, the CyberPatriot program has more than 5,200 teams competing of which the Sea Cadet youth organization has 27 teams enrolled. The CyberPatriot program helps direct students toward careers in cybersecurity or other computer, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.

While the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps’ Centurion Battalion has participated in past years’ conferences, this year was the first time their CyberPatriot demonstration showcased both Navy League Cadet Corps and Sea Cadet Corps team members. In 2016, the Centurion Battalion won the national CyberPatriot competition beating out thousands of other teams.

Sea Cadet Corps Instructor Denise Nicholson, who serves as the coach for both the Navy League Cadet Corps and the Sea Cadet Corps teams for Centurion Battalion, has been volunteering with the youth organization for nearly the past decade.

Serving as the chief operating officer of SoarTech, an artificial intelligence company, Dr. Nicholson has been working with military simulation and autonomy for the past 23 years. Through that involvement, cyber was an added component and it served as a best fit for their Sea Cadet teams. “My company is using the same technologies to train the next generation of cyber workforce,” said Nicholson. “I am taking that experience and applying it to our Sea Cadet teams to build the future cyber workforce.”

When asked why she volunteers with the Sea Cadets, Nicholson said the motivation is rewarded in the smiles and the accomplishments of the Sea Cadets she mentors.

“The motivation that I see from quite young cadets to cadets who have been in the program for so long, they are the hope for the future,” said Nicholson.

That hope for the future can be seen in the teams’ mentor, Lt.j.g. Jesse Rodriguez, who first entered Sea Cadets as a cadet in 2012 and transitioned to midshipman in 2015. As a midshipman, Rodriguez has continued to give back to the youth organization and has remained an integral part of Centurion Battalion and their CyberPatriot Team (Netrunners).

“I owe everything to the Sea Cadet youth organization and their involvement in the CyberPatriot program,” said Rodriguez. “These programs opened so many doors and provided me opportunities that no other program could in the cyber-defense realm.”
Rodriguez has steadfastly remained a volunteer to bring up the next generation of cyberwarriors, such as Seaman Apprentice Victoria Huber who serves on the Centurion Battalion’s Navy League Cadet Corps team.

“Participating in the Sea Cadets gives me a lot of hope for my future,” said Huber, who believes that her involvement will provide a pathway for future success. “I plan to join the U.S. Navy and Sea Cadets provides that good foundation.”

Having that solid foundation is exactly what the Sea Cadets have provided for cadet Chief Petty Officer Scott Nicholson, who is the son of Instructor Denise Nicholson and has been involved with the Sea Cadets for the past seven years.

Nicholson has recently been accepted into the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. While in NROTC, he plans to continue to volunteer with the Sea Cadets as a midshipman to ensure he gives back to the program that has given him so much. Through the past seven years, Nicholson has attended hundreds of training opportunities locally, nationally, and regionally.

“I am very proud and humbled to have been a part of the Sea Cadet and CyberPatriot teams over the past years,” said Nicholson, who plans to join the U.S. Navy with a goal of one day flying the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
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His mother, Denise, said of the reaction of the more than 13,000 I/ITSEC attendees during the Sea Cadet cybersecurity demonstration was impressive. “I was told over and over again that it was impressive to see the CyberPatriot demonstrations and the experience that these children have,” said Nicholson. “The cadets worked across the entire team demonstrating leadership that is often unrivaled in adults, all the way down to the youngest cadet to the senior cadet Chief. They are passionate about what they want to do and searching out for ways they can serve their community and eventually their nation, if they so choose.”

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