Battling COVID; a cyber Airman’s story

  • Published
  • By Samantha Mathison
  • 960th Cyberspace Wing Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. Brandon Ibanez, a cyber intelligence analyst with the 854th Combat Operations Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Chapman Training Annex, doesn’t wear a helmet to work, nor does he wear a sword or shield.

As a Gladiator in the 960th Cyberspace Wing, it’s not a requirement to don the traditional uniform of ancient Roman fighters, and it would be impractical because the enemy in cyberspace doesn’t attack using guns or spears. 

Instead, the threat lies in their use of malware, phishing and denial of service cyber-related attacks.

To fend off these threats, Ibanez’s role in his unit requires him to analyze intelligence and triangulate technical, geographical and operational information to provide situational awareness for leadership. This information enables his leaders to determine the best course of action in any given scenario.

“I initially joined the Air Force Reserve to serve my country and give back in any way I could,” Ibanez said. “Over time, my reasons have grown to include a true sense of having a large impact on my organization and the Air Force.”

Ibanez also wears another ‘helmet,’ so to speak, aside from being a traditional Reservist.

In his civilian career, he works for a biopharmaceutical company that develops and manufactures a variety of therapies for patients. 

It’s his responsibility to monitor the security of the company’s physical locations in Lake County, Illinois, while simultaneously monitoring global events and intelligence for any potential threats to global assets or travelers. 

“We monitor local and international events from our Global Security Operations Center,” he said, “and in emergency situations, we coordinate with numerous teams to ensure a successful conclusion to the situation.”

According to Ibanez, pharmaceutical companies are considered essential services, so they must continue to manufacture therapies and maintain supply chains, so patients can continue to receive their medications. 

“Therefore, protecting our fellow workers is essential,” Ibanez said. “I monitor and supply our temperature screening stations with a variety of personal protective equipment which is provided to all incoming employees. Additionally, I monitor COVID-19 trends in real-time and report any developments to our leadership team.”

For example, Ibanez said, he routinely monitors potential supply chain issues from PPE thefts and he watches over global travelers to ensure there will not be any impacts to their safety. These actions help protect employees from COVID-19.

According to Ibanez, everyone in the operations center has to work six days on and two days off to keep it running 24-7, which can make for a long workweek.

“My family has been completely supportive and they continuously check-in on my wellbeing to make sure I am not taking on too much,” he said. “Specifically, my wife has been a great wingman through all of this. She routinely goes out of her way to be a good listener and provides me feedback to help overcome challenges.”

Ibanez said that he has also received support from his unit.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, my unit has been great,” he said. “My leadership team has proactively sent COVID-19 updates directly to our members and many have personally reached out to ask about my wellbeing. I could not ask for more.”

According to the 854th COS Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division superintendent who has known Ibanez for almost five years, Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Kolberg, the 854th COS has members all over the country who travel to San Antonio for unit training assemblies and annual tours. 

Since the effects of the COVID-19 virus have interrupted the unit’s training schedule they’ve had to adapt and overcome obstacles of how to provide training, meet readiness requirements and develop products, Kolberg said.

“Fortunately, we have been able to meet these demands as well as connect with members through a virtual environment capability,” Kolberg said. “Although this type of UTA is not ideal in the long term, the circumstances have inspired innovative thinking to overcome what was previously perceived as a limitation, which adds a new strength to the 854 COS and our members.”

Unlike active duty Airmen who tend to live in the local area and are adjusted to a work schedule that effectively allows them to conduct missions, Reservists are not always co-located with the unit they work in.

Ibanez is one of these members, as he lives in Chicago, Illinois.

“It’s not always easy being a traditional Reservist and Tech. Sgt. Ibanez stands out as a reliable and hard worker,” Kolberg said. “He’s the type of person who takes the initiative, whether it be stepping up to develop needed training, helping others with whatever challenges they are facing or providing mentorship, he has always been one to count on.”

As tiring and stressful as the pandemic has been for Ibanez, he said that resiliency training has been key to overcoming the challenges.

“At the end of each day, I know that the work I did has made a difference and has an impact,” Ibanez said. “I focus on creating a plan to be successful and I avoid focusing on how hard something is, which helps me decrease any potential anxiety or stress so I can accomplish the objective and deliver great results.”