"When my granny was 91, she did PT just for fun…" Running with the Army's brainy cyber warriors

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The 780th Military Intelligence Brigade conducts a brigade run, with a guest Mar. 6. (Credit: Tina Miles//U.S. Army public affairs)

About two miles into the four-mile run, my hands were like stones. Pink and raw and nearly frozen, they couldn’t feel a thing.

The soldier next to me must have seen me looking at my sorry fists.

“Here, I have some liners,” he said, tugging them off and handing them to me as we chugged on into the frosty Fort Meade, Md., morning.

It made all the difference.

Months earlier, I visited with Col. Jonathan Sweet, the new commander of the Army’s first cyber brigade, the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade. Sweet was building up the unit, which is charged with tracking potential threats – including rogue-state- and nonstate-affiliated hackers, and shadowy criminal enterprises – all in defense of military networks. (See Feb. 27 issue of Army Times.)

The HR side does not sound particularly glamorous, and Sweet will move on within a few weeks after having gotten the ball rolling. Cyber warfare is a growing field in a contracting Army, and a hot new MOS is being created for the folks who will staff it. Still, the same skills are in demand in the private sector, so the Army must either compete for personnel with the skills or train them itself.

In December of last year, the article announcing the 780th to the rest of the Army was accompanied by a photo of its troops on a brigade run. Sweet was keen to let his soldiers and the rest of the Army know that this isn’t a unit full of desk jockeys, even if–let’s face it–that’s what they are.

It was probably in that spirit that Sweet invited me at the end of the interview to join his brigade on its March brigade run, which turned out to have been on March 6.

Maybe a little over-eager, I arrived for the 06:30 run at 05:45–unprepared. I wearing a hat, shorts and a long-sleeved top overlaid with my high school gym tee. The arriving soldiers were in running suits and gloves. Someone told me it was 25 degrees.

At dawn on the infantry-centric Fort Bragg, N.C., the streets are thick with soldiers running PT. But Fort Meade’s streets were empty. The post hosts the National Security Agency. In place of Bragg’s paratroopers, Meade’s got cryptologists, computer hackers and signals intelligence experts. In other words, nerds.

The pack of us took off, exhaling mist. Soon the cadences began.

“When my granny was 91, she did PT just for fun.”

“When my granny was 92, she did PT better than you.”

“When my granny was 93, she did PT better than me.”

And so on. There’s a reason for cadences. They work.

As we ran, Sweet pointed out a field of tall grass where future general George S. Patton served after World War I, another where future general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower served, and finally where ground had been broken on the 780th’s new headquarters.

“That’s us,” he grinned, “right between Patton and Eisenhower.”

As we had formed up before the run, a soldier approached me, probably at a superior’s request. “My name is Marquis. I’ll be running with you,” he said.

Marquis was the soldier who handed me his glove liners.

It’s a big Army, and there are all kinds of soldiers — jocks and nerds and a lot in between. But the good ones all have one thing in common: They take care of each other.

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  1. David R. Smith on

    As the Army’s sole Cyber Brigade, it seems odd that they have chosen to highlight their PT program twice. Isn’t there a more important story to tell about these soldiers? Maybe something to do with their unique skill set and the value they bring the Army in the Cyberspace domain?

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