Uncle Sam’s I Want You for U.S. Army poster from World War 1 is an iconic piece of Americana. Well, a century has passed since then, and now Uncle Sam isn’t looking to recruit Doughboys, but cybersecurity professionals instead.
It makes perfect sense: as time goes on, less warfare will be conducted with firearms and bombs, and more warfare will be conducted by breaching firewalls with logic bomb malware. That’s what the 21st century is all about.
The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service released a request for information (PDF) on February 16th, which said:
“Congress has specifically directed the Commission to consider… United States youth, including an increased propensity for military service; (3) the feasibility and advisability of modifying the military selective service process in order to obtain for military, national, and public service individuals with skills (such as medical, dental, and nursing skills, language skills, cyber skills, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills) for which the Nation has a critical need, without regard to age or sex; and (4) the feasibility and advisability of including in the military selective service process, as so modified, an eligibility or entitlement for the receipt of one or more Federal benefits (such as educational benefits, subsidized or secured student loans, grants or hiring preferences) specified by the Commission for purposes of the review.”
In addition to considering the need to recruit more “troops with cyber skills,” the Commission wants to know why people choose to serve or to not serve, and if a draft to secure more critical talent is even feasible. From inspire2serve.gov:
“The Commission seeks to learn more about why people serve and why people may choose not to serve, as well as ways to increase the number of Americans in military, national, and public service.”
If you’re an American citizen who works in the cybersecurity field, you might find yourself drafted in the US Army against your will at some point. Are you in your thirties, forties, fifties? Yep, the same applies to you. Being a physically fit young man may no longer be a prerequisite for recruitment.
Joe Hall is a tech policy adviser at the Center for Democracy and Technology. He’s also 40 years old. He said:
“(I’m) not totally against the idea, (but) I do think you'd need different structures to make the best use of these folks.”
32-year-old app designer Roberto Pena adds:
“I am building a company and being drafted would be an enormous hindrance. It's very important that the military offer pathways to people who want to volunteer their technical knowledge in the service of their country. But being drafted would hinder my ability to contribute to society in the best way I know how.”
I also spoke with Pete Sanders, an expert in cybersecurity recruitment and founder of Identifi Global, about what impact military cybersecurity recruitment might have on the private sector:
“Governments have been doing this for a long time anyway. If they are willing to compete with private sector salaries, then good luck to them. I can’t see them doing that, so It’s likely they will need to hire younger talent and train them up which has a long-term benefit for the private sector. We already see this happening with good results. It would be interesting to see what they deem as ‘cyber security skills’ and how they tackle the skills gap.”
I also asked Sanders for his thoughts on a possible US military draft. If the US decides to do so, recruiting cybersecurity talent won’t be a matter of competing for salaries. Theoretically, some people may be forced to work for the US military.
“I think it shows the state of the world today. Every government is doing this. The US as usual are willing to ensure they compete by employing the best (money no object, if that’s true). I still think they will struggle. Military service is a choice, regardless of skill. Most people enjoy the freedom they are entitled to, some choose to protect that and some don’t.