The click-clacking of keys echo around the room as each student sits at their individual table. Various piles of junk food lay scattered around the room, stealing their attention for a second as they shove spoonfuls of chicken dip in their mouth then return to diagnosing their electronic patient. Meanwhile, their peers sit in class, twiddling their thumbs or doodling on the side of their notes, studying the formulas before them. They complete their analysis essays as their ROTC counterparts defend their assigned servers from vindictive hackers. Code scrolls up the computer, alerts pop up around the screen as their fingers flash from key to key, hoping to outperform their rivals from other NEISD schools and show off the self-taught skills they’ve perfected.
Throughout the months of Nov. and Dec., the Cyber Patriots, a team dedicated to refining their protection skills against hackers and debuting those skills in contest, have competed in the ROTC building while their classmates went to their regularly scheduled classes.
Senior Nathaniel Johnston finishes the competition and starts to shut down his computer. Photo by Kayla Gunn.
“[Cyber security] is definitely the thing to be learning right now,” Cadet Command Sergeant Major of the ROTC Battalion senior Nathaniel Johnston said. “Not saying ‘I’m on the cutting edge of the newest technology craze’, but I think it is something important that if people have an interest in [technology, they] should definitely pursue [it].”
Johnston joined the group when he was a freshman, making this his fourth year on the team.
“My freshman year was the first year this JROTC did Cyber Patriots, so I was one of the [only] freshmen on the team,” Johnston said.
For Johnston, this experience has influenced his career choices and future major.
“When I do attend A&M I’m going to be majoring in computer science, and then hopefully I’m going to contract with the Air Force to be a network analyst,” Johnston said. “At the beginning of my high school career, when I was a freshman, I wanted to be a JSF pilot in the Marine Core. Slowly, this really became more enticing to me, and it changed my career decision.”
Battalion and Drill Commander senior Nick Phillips, second out of the three members of the Cyber Patriots Nationals team, joined his sophomore year.
“I went to lunch for a while, but it was boring and I didn’t have too much to do then,” Phillips said. ” I started messing with computers and playing games on them.”
Johnston then informed Phillips about the team, leading him to begin his journey in cyber security.
Senior Nathaniel Johnston scrolling through code. Photo by Kayla Gunn.
“I joined at the very end of the year,” Phillips said. “The season was pretty much over. So they taught me how to count in base two, how to change base, stuff like that.”
Phillips started competing his junior year, eventually becoming as enticed as Johnston by the field. He plans to attend A&M after graduating highschool.
“The major I signed up for is the computer engineering major, and while it’s relevant to [Cyber Patriots] it’s more designing computers,” Phillips said. “So, I’ll probably end up changing it. I’m hoping to go into the cyber warfare division of the Air Force once I’m out of college. That’d be neat.”
The experience and knowledge gained from Cyber Patriots not only sends the two seniors on the Nationals team to pursue cyber security, it also captured senior Taylor Beesinger’s career interest.
“I used to think I wanted to major in theatre,” member of the JV Cyber Patriot team Beesinger said. “I’ve always been interested in computers, and I was going to go for [cyber protection] as my minor, but then I decided I didn’t want to do theatre.”
Beesinger, instead, has been accepted to Embry-Riddle in AZ, and will major in cyber security and intelligence through a degree plan built by the FBI. After college, he wants to work for either the CIA or the FBI.
“I’d love to protect my country,” Beesinger said. “I love America, and I’d greatly die for it. [So] I feel like I’m accomplishing something by protecting the people.”
The patriotism of these seniors, along with their team mates, is what will be carrying them to the Platinum Tier Semifinals Round to be held Jan. 16 through the 18. Following the Semifinals round, the top teams in the Open and All Service Divisions’ Platinum Tier will advance to the CyberPatriot VII Finals Competition, held in Washington, D.C.