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Winning Cyberwar Takes Getting Talent Management Right
by U.S. Army David Vergun - December 15, 2015

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WASHINGTON - Talent management is essential for getting the right people in the right place, at the right time, for any Army job - but especially for cyber, an Army manpower leader said.

"Cyber poses an existential threat to our existence. They've got to get [talent management] right" since potential adversaries are really good at cyber warfare," said Michael J. Colarusso, senior research analyst for the U.S. Army Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis.

He and others spoke at the Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare-sponsored Army Cyber Hot Topics panel discussion: "Cyber Talent Management," November  10, 2015.

Cyber warriors defend the network at the tactical operations center for 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, on Fort Bliss, Texas, during Network Integration Evaluation 16.1, which ran from Sept. 25 to Oct. 8, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)
Cyber warriors defend the network at the tactical operations center for 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, on Fort Bliss, Texas, during Network Integration Evaluation 16.1, which ran from Sept. 25 to Oct. 8, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by David Vergun)


Colarusso said there are different schools of thought regarding what talent and talent management mean.

In his own view, he said "talent is a force that liberates the unique abilities of every person." Each individual has unique types of intelligence and abilities, so one cannot say he or she is the most or least talented person because there's no such thing. With training and good leadership, those unique skillsets "can be expanded and liberated."

Talent management, on the other hand, is an integration of four factors: acquiring the right people, developing their talent, employing them in the right places and retaining them. By doing those four things right, it will alleviate "poaching" of those talented individuals by outside agencies, he said.


Nearly everyone on the panel believed that the Army and the rest of the Department of Defense have challenges hiring and retaining talented cyber warriors.

Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney D. Harris, Army Cyber Command and 2nd Army, talked with countless cyber warriors over the years, trying to define what motivates them to join and stay, or not. He shared anecdotes that he said are representative.

A certain very talented master sergeant serving in an analyst role "got QSP'd" out of the Army, Harris said. QSP is the Qualitative Service Program Board. She wanted to stay in, but she had not been promoted to E-9 because there was not an open E-9 position to fill. "The board didn't consider her skills; they just looked at the math."

She was so good, in fact, that Google Inc. would have said her talents and abilities, if compared with her peers, would have been "one in a thousand," he added.

One staff sergeant he spoke with said he and his entire cyber team were planning to leave the Army. "People are hitting their decision point. The Army has to figure out why they're leaving and if it really wants to keep them."

In another instance, a hugely talented graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, who was working at Google, wanted to join the Army as an officer in the Cyber Branch. Harris said she realized she'd be taking a big pay cut, but she felt she wanted to give something back to her country and she had a Family history of service.

Her recruiter said she had too many tattoos to become an officer, but she could go enlisted. She did in fact enlist and today, she's the No. 1 person on her artillery team, serving on Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The point is, Harris said, it's not just about money. The other point is the Army has to look at better ways of attracting and retaining talent.

Harris added that even if cyber warriors do decide to leave, the Army should try to ensure they don't leave with negative feelings.

While Harris sees opportunities to improve policy and leadership, Colarusso had a different perspective.

The Army is part of the American labor market, Colarusso said, so competitive pressures from outside the Army are at work. Those pressures are high because the labor market is tight in cyber, meaning those with a cyber specialty are in high demand.

Other drivers are at work, Colarusso said, such as duty station location, training offered, quality of work and work environment. The current system "doesn't see people three dimensionally. We don't know our people other than what's on their resume."

With more than a million people in the Army, it's a very heterogeneous population, he added. There are likely many in other military occupational specialties, or MOSs, who would make a good cyber fit, "but we can't see it and get people in the right seats."


In the realm of cyber, knowledge rapidly becomes dated, Colarusso said. A key to hiring and keeping cyber talent, particularly for the millennials, is providing quality training and education.

Millennials are very different from baby boomers regarding what motivates them, he said. "They value employability, not employment." For millennials, having six jobs in several years is "not a red flag. It's the new normal."

The reason they move around so much has to do less with money and more with growth potential, he said. Besides top-notch training, growth includes such things as having opportunities to be engaged and have a lot of responsibilities and the ability to influence outcomes. They won't go or stay where there are toxic leaders.

Once talent is effectively matched with those motivators, Colarusso said, "productivity goes way up."

To sum up what most of the panelists said, effective talent management derives from the interaction of:

- Job satisfaction

- Leadership

- Compensation

- Training and education


"Why join the Navy ... if you can be a pirate?" asked Karl F. Schneider, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and Reserve affairs. He was quoting the late Steve Jobs, who reportedly made that remark when he was CEO of Apple Computer Inc. in 1982.

The point Jobs was making was pirates get to chart their own course and reap rewards, albeit with risk, while Sailors don't get to decide where they'll sail - unless they're the skipper. Jobs put a good team together that stayed and brought success to the company, Schneider said.

Schneider said it might pay for the Army to look at other successful models of organizations that have been really good at building highly-effective teams and retained their skilled workers. The Army could then pirate some of those ideas.

He then tossed out a few examples.

The Navy's nuclear program is one such effort that's grown over the last half century, he said. The program has managed to grow and retain a highly-skilled enlisted force. Adm. Hyman George Rickover was the prime architect of that program for over three decades.

Another exemplar, Schneider said, is Lt. Gen. Leslie Richard Groves Jr., who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon and directed the Manhattan Project, a project that developed the atomic bomb. Groves built and nurtured an effective team, which included J. Robert Oppenheimer and a number of eccentric personalities.

Schneider also cited Skunk Works as being a successful talent management model. Skunk Works, a nickname for Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, was responsible for creating innovative and effective aircraft, such as the U-2 and SR-71.

Skunk Works was so successful that the name has become synonymous for organizations that allow their employees to be creative and innovative in a less restrictive environment.

The warrant officer program can even be thought of as a model where highly-skilled employees are provided increased compensation without necessarily placing them in command positions, he said.

Yet another is the Canadian military system, which has a blended retirement system for both military and civilians, thus easily facilitating career moves between the two. That gives personnel more options, he said.

"Do I really care if the cyber operator or developer is military or civilian?" he said. "Isn't it more important to get the needed skills? We should have a rucksack full of options. Recruiters should be able to ask, 'what would it take you to join our organization?' Then offer them options and let them join, right then and there."

Schneider's last comment sparked a question from the audience: "If there are not enough Soldiers or Army civilians in cyber, why not just hire more contractors?"

Harris fielded that question. "When we default to contractors, it's because we couldn't train our own people, or they didn't fit our model" of what a cyber warrior is perceived to be. "We can't just default to contractors. We have to ask why we can't develop and retain our own folks."

It's also important, Harris noted, to "focus on who we want in our force. Should it just be someone who can pass a security clearance?" Besides clearances, Soldiers and Army civilians are instilled with Army values; not that contractors don't have them. Contractors can poise an unknown risk if their work ethic is not based on the same values driven environment.


Col. Jon Brickey, National Capital Region partner director, Army Cyber Institute at West Point, didn't paint as bleak a picture regarding talent management for cyber.

While conceding a need for improvement, he said the Army is becoming more effective at identifying and fostering cyber talent. Efforts and results will improve over time, he said.

The Army is now providing a cyber test to initial-entry recruits that could help identify talent early, he said. That effort should expand over the next few years.

The Army is also evaluating a number of aptitude and cognitive assessment tools that could further identify cyber talent, he said.

ROTC and West Point are identifying cyber talent early in their cadets, Brickey said. Those in cyber tracks are assigned mentors who monitor their progress and assign them tasks and encourage extracurricular activities such as cyber internships and joining cyber clubs.

As for retention, Brickey said the Army and the other services are collaborating with universities to get Soldiers scholarships, cyber degrees, advanced training and certificates. Besides universities, the National Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command and National Intelligence University are offering their own courses of learning.

Finally, Brickey said now that cyber has become a branch, career progression is better facilitated and this should be a plus for retention.


Although the topic of values may seem tangential to talent management, Colarusso said he felt it important enough to bring up.

Junior leaders and Soldiers are just starting to apply the Army values they acquired, he said. When young leaders make mistakes in judgment or character in other MOSs, there's often a period of time where they can be redeemed. But making those kinds of mistakes in cyber could have national security implications. "There are no peaks and valleys in cyber. You're in contact with the enemy 24/7, 365 days a year. There's no room for error."

By U.S. Army David Vergun
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2015

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