SANS Offers Cybersecurity Training for Transitioning Military Personnel

Soldiers in the field SANS story

In the wake of President Obama's decision to draw down military forces deployed overseas, particularly those on combat or support missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, all branches of the U.S. military have been involved in an overall reduction in force strength. For transitioning military personnel, particularly combat veterans, this has meant some profound rethinking of their personal goals and skill sets, as well as figuring out how to translate what they learned and did on active duty into meaningful civilian employment.


SANS Institute, a leading purveyor of cybersecurity training and personnel development, is among many organizations stepping in to help with this process. Given the institute's overall focus, it's no surprise at all that their program, called VetSuccess Immersion Academy, has a cybercecurity focus. SANS is reaching out to experienced IT and information security professionals from within military ranks, with the aim of helping them transition into civilian jobs in the cybersecurity field.


SANS vetsuccess-process


In late September, SANS published the VetSuccess Immersion Academy Pilot Report 2015, to document the experiences and outcomes of its initial pilot program. The above graphic documents the process they went through to recruit their first cohort of attendees, as well as the training, testing and certification they went through in the program, and how those "graduates" were matched up with employers to help them make the transition into the civilian workforce. As shown in that graphic, there were three steps involve, namely:


1. Recruitment: Candidates completed an assessment to identify those with the right aptitudes, mindsets and abilities to ensure a strong likelihood of successful completion, and subsequent employment in the field. As SANS staffer Jim Michaud explained to me, "The assessment is not a test of what people already know and can do; rather, it's a test of how well they grasp the basic principles of cybersecurity that measures their aptitude and understanding of the field."


The one Army and eight Air Force staffers chosen for the inaugural cohort included five senior master sergeants, three staff sergeants, and one master sergeant, with an average of 17 years' experience in IT and 8 years' experience in cybersecurity. Several of these participants held master's degrees, and others bachelor's degrees, with a minimum of an associate's degree across a wide variety of IT or computer science related majors.


2. Training, Testing & Certification — The CyberTalent Immersion Academy at SANS offers attendees a standard curriculum that includes three courses and participation in a Netwars Tournament (a live security competition wherein participants tackle hands-on security challenges in a competitive situation). For each course included in the program, attendees take a corresponding certification exam and earn a related SANS GIAC credential. The three courses are:

SEC401 Security Essentials Bootcamp Style: An intensive, five-day instructor-led series of classes, labs and assignments on security fundamentals usually taught at one of the SANS conferences. Groups of Academy attendees work through the class together, so they get a chance to meet and work with each other, as well as to work hands-on through the curriculum and its attendant labs and exercises. This confers the GSEC certification.

SEC504: Hacker Techniques, Exploits & Incident Handling: A 70-hour SANS OnDemand (online) class aimed at providing hands-on experience and knowledge in handling vulnerabilities and discovering and dealing with intrusions, within the context of a comprehensive incident handling plan. This confers the GCIH certification.

One elective class from a set of four choices:

SEC503: Intrusion Detection In-Depth (Confers the GCIA certification)

SEC542: Web App Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking (Confers the GWAPT certification)

FOR408: Windows Forensic Analysis (Confers the GCFE certification)

SEC501: Advanced Security Essentials – Enterprise Defender (Confers the GCED certification)


3. Job Search and Placement: Program attendees make contact with employers as soon as they enter the program and stay in touch throughout. Program graduates may register in the SANS CyberTalent match database, which provides that information to employers seeking cybersecurity professionals, and may also participate in an ongoing CyberTalent Fair, a virtual meeting place online where employers and job seekers meet together.


All nine members of the inaugural cohort found jobs by the time they completed the program, and SANS itself was unable to resist cherry-picking one of those graduates to fill one of its own job openings. Other jobs taken include a senior information security analyst at Solutionary, a cyber incident handler at Insight Global, a systems architect at the U.S. Army Cyber Protection Brigade, and an IT manager at Amazon.


Right now, the application process for a second cohort is about to get underway, housed at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Wash. The application period runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. Classes get underway on Jan. 11 and run through May 15. In return for full tuition payment from program sponsors (like the various employers mentioned in item three above), participants offered employment from a sponsor agree to stay employed with that sponsor for a minimum of two years after their job commences.


Active duty military at or near Lewis McChord in the Army or Air Force who have announced their decision to separate from service in 2016 are eligible to apply: see the SANS VetSuccess Academy page for more information. (An application form and assessment will become available when the application period opens on November first of this year.)


I am totally jazzed about this program, and what it can mean for service members lucky enough to qualify. I can only hope that potential plans to expand the program, both in terms of numbers of attendees and locations, come to fruition. It's a great idea, and a terrific way to honor the service and sacrifice of our military, while helping them make the transition to an active and valuable role in the civilian workforce.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.