Maryland Air Guard network intelligence analyst helps team succeed during cyber skills exercise

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Christopher Schepers
  • 175th Wing

A team predominately composed of members of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Cyberspace Operations Group captured first place during a recent skills validation exercise hosted by the Tennessee Air National Guard.

The team, which also included members of the Texas Air National Guard, outscored other teams in a variety of categories during the competition, which was hosted by Tennessee’s 218th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group.

Maryland Air National Guard Master Sgt. Benny Casalina, a career network intelligence analyst assigned to the group’s 135th Intelligence Squadron, said the cyber exercise gave him the opportunity to help his coworkers prepare for future missions and exercises.

“I really enjoyed participating in this exercise because I was able to see how it was put together, what’s involved in putting it together, and then seeing what would be needed for a drill status Guardsman to participate and be successful,” said Casalina. “Now I can bring that information back and pass it on so less experienced Airmen know that this is what you need to know and do to be successful for this type of exercise.”

In addition to Casalina winning the “Best Report” for the exercise, his teammates, Maryland Air National Guard Master Sgt. Andrew Knott won for “Best Network Map” and Tech Sgt. Edgard Guerra was named “Most Valuable Player” for the exercise.

According to the leader of his team during exercise, Casalina was an invaluable part of the six-person team.

“He guided us through our reporting requirements for the entire exercise, producing three serialized reports that received numerous accolades from the exercise coordinators,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Jasmine Mossbarger, flight commander assigned to the 23rd Intelligence Squadron’s B Flight and team officer in charge. “We were ultimately recognized for having the best reporting for the entire exercise. He’s exactly the kind of senior non-commissioned officer we need overseeing our missions and Airmen.”

Casalina’s desire to work in the intelligence world began shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, when he recalls hearing on the news, “according to intelligence reports.” After graduating from the University of West Florida, Casalina attempted to work in the intelligence community, but with little experience found it difficult to break into the field.

“I didn’t have any real intelligence experience and I was having trouble starting a civilian career, so I looked into joining the Air Force as the best route to get that experience,” said Casalina. “I decided to take the enlisted route because as an officer they couldn’t guarantee me an intelligence position, and all I wanted to do was work in intelligence.”

After enlisting in 2005 as a fusion intelligence analyst and completing technical school in 2006 at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Casalina relocated to his first duty station at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, Georgia.

Casalina began to truly understand the importance of the job he signed up to perform during a deployment to Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar in 2010, where he worked in the Combined Air Operations Center.

“I learned how air operations from an Air Force perspective actually works, and I gained a lot of experience and learned a lot about the different networks, tools, and databases we use to perform our job,” he said. “A lot of what we did was threat indications, so if we were carrying out an air operation to a certain location we tried to find out if there were any known threats that could harm personnel or aircraft in the area.”

He also learned how combatant commanders “integrate intelligence into carrying out their mission.”

After returning to Ft. Gordon, he transitioned in 2011 to Ramstein Air Base in Germany where in 2012 he was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“We were working with the task force guys on the ground in Afghanistan providing them intel when they were performing their missions,” explained Casalina. “That deployment is one of my proudest moments during my service in the Air Force because I was helping to provide them with information that was going to help bring them safely back to the base.”

Casalina served on active duty until 2014, when he made the decision to switch to part-time military service.

“I took advantage of the Palace Chase program and transferred to the Georgia Air National Guard,” explained Casalina. “I was on active duty one day, and the next day I was serving in the Air National Guard.”

While serving in the Georgia Air National Guard, Casalina worked as a civilian in the national security sector in Maryland. He was traveling back and forth monthly to Georgia to fulfill his Air National Guard service requirements, so he found a Guard position closer with the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group.

“When I transferred to the squadron I was fully qualified and was hoping to be able to help out younger Airmen with less experience,” said Casalina. “During my interview I was told that I would basically be the most experienced SIGINT [Signals Intelligence] Airman in the squadron because at that time the squadron was just recently stood up.”

Knowing the caliber of recruits enlisting in the Maryland Air National Guard, his role now is to ensure they can fully utilize their skills for mission success.

“The 135th Intelligence Squadron is a world-class organization filled with extremely intelligent people whether we are pulling from the contractor world or straight off the streets,” said Casalina. “We have a lot of great experience and people from the top down. Our commanders are always pushing training and giving us opportunities to perform temporary duty for training and to participate in exercises that help us enhance our skills.”