NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The National Guard is tasked with defending the U.S. and keeping its citizens safe. But that defense comes in all forms, including attacks that have more to do with “bits” than “bullets”.

The latest National Guard training exercise held at Camp Robinson is focused on all things cyber. It’s called Cyber Shield, a two-week long training program that builds skills in cyber defense.

Cyber security experts from all over the world gathered for the program, aimed at preparing experts to tackle threats that come from being connected. 

“Any entity is going to be affected by cyber incidents,” participant Michael Greer, a cyber-ops specialist with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety explained. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

With one week of training and another of exercises, skills are learned you can’t gain just from running a program.

“We’re focused on training the best and learning the best techniques for defending cyber security and information technology systems all over the world,” Col. Jeffrey Fleming, officer in charge of Cyber Shield said. “They get to put what they learn to the test.”

“If there’s an attack on a water treatment plant and the guard got called in, we kind of need to know how to handle that type of technology,” Participant Sgt. Joshua Hedden with the U.S. Air Force National Guard added.

During the training, experts break up into teams that do everything from assessing to defending and even attacking. For example, the “Red Team” roleplays as the villainous hackers that experts will face in real life, while the “Blue Team” acts as defenders. 

“We try to keep everything here as real as possible,” Col. Fleming said. 

It’s a passion project for everyone who logs on, but an important one; the defense against a war being fought online targeting everything from e-mails to energy grids.

“It’s all connected somehow, all that data goes back somewhere,” Col. Flemming said. “And all of that stuff needs to be secured.”

This week has been all about training, learning those skills and what to do during an attack. The next few days will be the exercises where they get to test what they learned.

This year’s scenario is all about critical infrastructure and transportation, which can be cyber targets across the nation.