Growing threats from cyber attackers drove the U.S. Army Reserve to partner earlier this year with the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and other academic, industry and military entities on a program to train future cyber-security professionals.

The Army Reserve Cyber Private Public Partnership Program (Cyber P3i for short) was created in February after the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in January a shortage of 40,000 cyber-security specialists to satisfy the government’s growing demand.

“The demand … far outpaces the current inventory,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the U.S. Army Reserve, said in a statement last week. “Our belief is the Cyber P3i effort will serve as a seed to enhance these critical efforts and lessen the skilled soldiers shortage gap.”

UCCS hosted the first Cyber P3i event this week in the form of a “Cyber Public Private Partnership Design Workshop” piloting the national program. During the three-day workshop, 56 Army reservists were given a cyber threat to counter, after which they were debriefed by a panel of public- and private-sector representatives.

“Colorado Springs is fortunate that the U.S. Army Reserve has chosen our community to design its national program for cyber workforce development that will benefit our local military, UCCS and industry partners,” Regional Business Alliance Board Chair Debbie Chandler said last week.

The workshop was part of the larger program aimed at cultivating a crop of well-rounded “cyber warriors” to fight the growing global threat of Internet hacks, breaches and attacks. It included participants from more than 30 universities, as well as several industry partners and representatives from the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Cyber Command in Colorado Springs.

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“The Cyber P3i is a unique opportunity that will leverage the best cyber skills, training, knowledge and practices across academia, industry and the Army Reserve to create meaningful career paths for cyber professionals serving as citizen soldiers in uniform and employed by industry,” said Kathy Boe, CEO of Colorado Springs-based defense contractor Boecore. “Having the ability to hire cyber-trained and experienced Army Reserve soldiers that our defense customers can leverage to increase their cyber readiness posture is a win, win, win.”

Lt. Col. Scott Nelson, program manager and former deputy commanding officer of Army Reserve Cyber Operations, said it is too soon to estimate just how many reservists will go through the program in the coming months, adding, “It could be anywhere from 100 to 1,000.”

Either way, he said, it’s a positive for the military and companies such as Boecore.

At an introductory reception Sunday night, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak and Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson spoke on a need for collaboration and creative partnership.

“We need to get busy in cyber to make sure we’re teaching [younger military personnel] what they need to know when they replace us,” Johnson said. “In cyber, I think this partnership with the community seems to be where it’s at. This is a start to try to work together.”

Cyber security has for years been a concern for the military and its commercial partners, and the CP3i program is viewed as a creative solution to the growing problem.

“The threat to these systems has become increasingly more pervasive and sophisticated, posing a risk to military operations, forces and communities,” Talley said. “The new Cyber P3i was developed to provide an educated, trained and continuously ready cyber force of military and civilian professionals who can meet the needs of the Army and the nation.”

The program will address three core “lines of effort:” enhancing STEM education among its partner universities; developing career opportunities for Army reservist soldiers trained in these areas; and bolstering support for children interested in entering STEM-related fields, especially those with a focus on cyber security.

UCCS currently offers cyber-security courses through its College of Engineering, said UCCS spokesperson Tom Hutton, and the school was recently designated as a Certified Center of Excellence in Cyber Security by both the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

That, and the abundance of area military installations, helped UCCS make the program, whose other higher-ed partners include the University of Washington, Norwich University, George Mason University, Drexel University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of South Florida.

Corporate sponsors include Boecore, Rackspace US Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Microsoft Corp., Professional Project Services Inc., Chevron Corp. and CALIBRE Systems. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and NSA are program partners, as is the Regional Business Alliance.