Story by SPC Joseph Knoch on 09/13/2019GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (Sept. 12, 2019) -- On his first rotation as an active duty Soldier, 2nd Lt. Shane Neal, an Offensive Cyber Operations Planner (OCO Planner), with the Expeditionary Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) Team (ECT), 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion, is eagerly engaged in the U.S. Army's recent applications of cyber warfare technologies during Saber Junction 2019 (SJ19), Sept. 3-30, 2019, Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels Training Areas, Germany.
As one of the nearly 5,400 participants from 16 ally and partner nations who have gathered together to participate in SJ19, Neal is working alongside many U.S. Army commanders to plan and organize the integration of cyber warfare strategies and tactics.
"As an ECT OCO planner, I'm part of the cyber planning cell, which has been integrated with a brigade plans team," Neal said. "Our mission is to aid in the strategic assignment of CEMA technologies to battlefield operations here at Saber Junction 2019."
A Brighton, Michigan, native, Neal attended Michigan State University where he first learned about cyber operations and the opportunities to work in the U.S. Army as a Cyber and Electronic Warfare Officer.
"I went through ROTC... while I earned my bachelors in Mechanical Engineering," Neal said. "After graduation, I wanted to take the opportunity to serve as an active duty officer. Being an engineer, a big part of my choice to pursue becoming a 17A, Cyber Operations Officer, was my interest in the strategic and tactical operations of CEMA technologies."
After graduating from occupational training in May of 2019, Neal was stationed in Fort Gordon, Georgia, where he joined the newly formed 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion.
"CEMA and unified land operations are in the process of being merged within the Army. Being a part of the 915th CWSB is a really great opportunity to be on the frontline of this merger." Neal said. "When I found out that I was selected amongst other candidates to be a part of the 915th CSWB, I knew I had a unique opportunity."
As the CEMA officer in charge for the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Cpt. Douglas Gain's role in SJ19 is to advise commanders of the new realities of what cyber brings to the battlefield.
"Working directly with Neal is giving me an opportunity to really set the example for a young man who represents the future of CEMA officers, said Gain. "I don't think there is any better way to prepare someone for this job, other than being in an exercise like Saber Junction 2019"
Though cyber has a broad field of application within warfare, Neal states that his role during SJ19 is focused on the planning of offensive strategies.
"With offensive cyber you can degrade the enemy's ability to organize their mission command systems and communicate, along with other forms of strategic and tactical degradation of the enemy's capabilities." Said Cpt. Michael T. Belina, Brigade Signal Company Commander, 173rd Airborne IBCT, 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion (Airborne).
A signal planner for SJ19, Belina stresses the exercise provides new cyber officers like Neal, the opportunity to see how maneuver elements can benefit from the services that CEMA provides.
"Having a direct connection to the planning process and it's real time effect on the ground forces provides a valuable understanding." Belina said.
Neal agreed that this experience is proving to be a valuable one saying that many people tend to see cyber operations as a bunch of guys sitting in a dark room behind computer screens.
"We are tactically integrating cyber operators of four to six man teams with various units on the front line." Neal said. "That's a big deal because they are equipped to use cyber tools that are designed to disrupt, degrade, deny, destroy, and manipulate the enemy combatants electronic operations and electrically controlled kinetic weapons systems. This is the future of warfare."